The fact that you are reading Diabetes Self-Management suggests that you are eager to learn new ways of dealing with this demanding condition. It is likely that you’ve heard a great deal of advice on improving your diet, controlling your blood glucose levels, and starting or maintaining an exercise routine. However, it is also important to consider how you care for your mental and psychological health. Many people pay too little attention to these aspects of healing, yet such activities as guided imagery, meditation, and mindful eating can be excellent additions to anyone’s self-management routine. Each of these techniques — and others, as well — can help you learn to accept and feel compassion for yourself, and that, in turn, can lead to rewards both measurable (in the form of improved blood glucose control, for example) and immeasurable.
What is self-compassion?
While most people understand the concept of compassion as it applies to other people, fewer recognize the importance of extending compassion to themselves. Many people neglect to provide themselves with the same love and support that they offer to family members and close friends.
Many people are also overly self-critical, doubtful of their capabilities and desires, and too ready to negatively compare themselves to others. They see mistakes as permanent failings and temporary setbacks as insurmountable obstacles. When it comes to their own shortcomings, they see mountains where only molehills exist. But allowing greater self-compassion into one’s life can change all that.
Self-compassion presents an alternative way of thinking about yourself and your perceived faults. It allows you to bestow upon yourself the same love and support you give to those close to you. It also helps build your emotional resilience so that it’s easier to weather future blunders without spiraling into guilt and recrimination.
Dr. Kristin Neff, Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas, has proposed three major components of self-compassion:
Self-kindness. This means avoiding harsh judgment of yourself and instead treating yourself with care and understanding. Self-kindness is a gentle and accepting approach in which you use kind and caring language with yourself, as a good parent might use with a child. You learn to actively soothe and comfort yourself when something goes wrong, rather than turning to harsh and judgmental criticism. Exercising self-kindness means avoiding negative language; just as you wouldn’t call your best friend fat, lazy, or stupid, you shouldn’t use such language with yourself either.
Embracing common humanity. This means recognizing that imperfection is a shared aspect of the human experience and not a personal failing. When experiencing problems in life, it is common to feel as if you are the only person in the world who has that problem — even when this is obviously not the case. You may have experienced such feelings when you were first diagnosed with diabetes. This mind-set can leave you feeling isolated and powerless. But when you commit to embracing a sense of common humanity, you develop an understanding that everyone is in the same boat together. All of humanity deals with failure, disappointment, and shame. Once you internalize this reality, you will begin to feel more connected with the world and less alone in moments of trouble.
Mindfulness. This means seeing the big picture by keeping your present experiences in perspective. It means seeing life — with all of its nuisances, obstacles, and disappointments — as it is, no more and no less. By having a balanced perspective, you can avoid getting carried away with thoughts and feelings and letting them control you. You begin to realize that reality consists of only the present moment, not anxieties about the future or regrets about the past.