Just a nudge
Adopting fierce compassion doesn’t have to mean becoming a totally different person who emanates self-compassion at all times. It only requires one small step or one small nudge in the direction of being kind to yourself.
You can start with just one compassionate thought, something soothing or validating. E.g. I’m doing the best I can. I am enough. I have a right to protect myself from harm. If nothing comes to mind try thinking about something comforting that you might say to a friend.
You can also think about one compassionate action, like saying yes to help or no to something that is outside your energy capacity or likely to cause PEM. Or perhaps spending a little bit of your energy envelope on something that gives you a little joy or solace rather than spending all your energy on chores or doing things for others.
Why self-compassion is important
Self-compassion is important because when you are being critical of yourself, putting yourself down or judging yourself the antidote isn’t building up your self-esteem, it is having self-compassion. This is especially important for chronic illness sufferers as we don’t have the usual avenues to prop up our self-esteem.
Self esteem versus self-compassion
Studies show having high self-esteem does not help counteract self-criticism as well as the ability to be self-reassuring. Therefore at times when our inner bully is particularly loud we can protect ourselves a little better from the negative impacts of self-criticism by focussing on compassion rather than building up our self-esteem.
Let me give you an example. It will come as no surprise that social situations are a rare event. Even though now days I only see loved ones briefly, it occurs so rarely that I battle a growing level of social awkwardness and anxiety. It’s compounded by the fact that my life is so different to those out there in the world it can be incredibly hard to feel connected and of course even harder to feel seen and understood.
In the past I had enough energy to adopt a “fake it till you make it” state of mind that definitely helped get me through at the time. But due to energy limitations it’s no longer possible and also no longer something that serves me well. I could try to make myself feel a little more confident or comfortable by listing all the communication skills or abilities I have or thinking of all the other challenges I’ve overcome.
Or instead of spending my precious energy and spoons on the mental gymnastics required to provide counterpoints to my insecurities and inner bully I can approach the situation with self-compassion. By acknowledging it is ok to not be okay, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being socially awkward and it is completely understandable.
Making meaningful connections is difficult even under the best circumstances. When you’re exhausted before you even begin a conversation and have a dozen symptoms competing for your attention it’s normal to find forming and maintaining a deeper connection hard. It’s also easier to revert to more superficial interactions when your resources are depleted but the lack of resources is also the reason there is little energy or desire for polite/performative small talk.
So, to be able to walk into a social situation (and very quickly sit down) I don’t need to muster up genuine confidence or mask my anxieties and insecurities with false bravado. I don’t need to justify myself or change the way I feel, I just need the same amount of compassion for myself as I have for others.
Obviously all the obstacles and challenges of being upright and trying to hold a conversation while dealing with a chronic illness remain but at the very least you can quieten your inner critic because self-compassion is a pathway towards accepting yourself, where you are, now.