I recently ran across the blog So Angie Writes and I was deeply touched by her writings. When she offered to write a guest post I jumped at the chance. Angie shares some important words of wisdom on practicing self-compassion when chronic pain causes shame.
My illnesses are invisible and my symptoms fluctuate. There are days I can hike and kayak, and days I can’t move well. Some days I drive across the city, and others I don’t leave the couch. When I feel well, I want to see friends, so I enthusiastically plan meet-ups. Unfortunately I often wake up on meet-up days to find myself unable to function. I start getting ready, tenacity scooting me along, but eventually admit I’m out of spoons. Running on empty leads to tears of defeat and I message my friends to cancel.
Difficult feelings occur when I cancel plans due to chronic pain. I feel disappointed that I won’t see my friends, and I worry they will be mad at me for canceling. More than anything, I feel shame. Brené Brown defines shame as the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. Whereas guilt is the feeling that we did something wrong, shame is the feeling that we are wrong. I can feel guilty about canceling plans with friends, but when I feel I am bad, unreliable, and not good enough- that is shame.
Does my shame story around chronic pain sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. Shame is a universal feeling, and one that can occur frequently for those with invisible illnesses. As with all emotions, we cannot stop ourselves from ever feeling shame. The good news is, we can live shame-resilient lives by practicing self-compassion.
In Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, she breaks self-compassion down into three components; self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Today I’ll share Dr. Neff’s definitions of these three components of self-compassion, then give examples of how I use them to practice shame resilience.
Self-Kindness – Self-kindness, by definition, means that we stop the constant self-judgement and disparaging internal commentary that most of us have com to see as normal … It involves actively comforting ourselves, responding just as we would to a dare friend in need. -Kristin Neff
Self-kindness challenges us to speak to and care for ourselves the same way we would for those we love. The only difference between compassion and self-compassion is who is receiving our tenderness. If a friend cancelled plans due to chronic pain, would I call them bad, unreliable, and not good enough? No! We are kinder to others than to ourselves. The tenderness we bestow on the hurting around us can give us clues about how we might care for ourselves. Let’s think of all the ways we actively care for those we love. We hug them, feed them, take them to appointments, and encourage them to rest. We have compassionate experience! We can do this!
Common Humanity – When our troubled, painful experiences are framed by the recognition that countless others have undergone similar hardships, the blow is softened. -Kristin Neff
Shame sends the isolating message of “why me?” But when we look around, we see suffering is everywhere. Our journeys differ, but we’re all in this together. Connecting to others via shared-experience communities, local or online, can remind us we are not alone in our suffering. Counting My Spoons is a great example. Join the mailing list, follow on Twitter and Facebook, and allow yourself to be comforted by common humanity. We are never alone. We are all worthy of love and belonging.
Mindfulness – Mindfulness refers to the clear seeing and nonjudgmental acceptance of what’s occurring in the present moment … We can’t heal what we can’t feel. -Kristin Neff
When I wake up in pain and try to get out the door despite it, I am operating in a state of disconnection. I am at best trying to ignore my pain, and at worst, condemning it with unkind words, “this stupid body! I hate this pain, myself, my life!” Mindfulness is about turning toward our feelings of discomfort, and moving through them. When we’re drenched in pain, it seems absurd that we are not aware of it, yet often we aren’t! We don’t like pain! We don’t want to accept it! We want to fight it and fix it, and fast! But there is power in letting ourselves feel. During times of suffering I place my hand over my heart and whisper, “this is really hard for me right now.” When I respond to my pain with mindfulness, I’m giving myself space to acknowledge my struggle. I am validating myself and my experience. I am accepting my body and my journey. I am moving forward.
Invisible illnesses and chronic pain are difficult things to live with. When our bodies are functioning well, we may rush to make plans. When our bodies need extra rest and care, we may have to cancel plans, evoking feelings of shame. Practicing the three aspects of self-compassion will help us live a shame-resilient lifestyle, thereby reducing our suffering.
Further information on self-compassion can be found on Kristin Neff’s website, Self-Compassion.org and in her book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.
Hi, I’m Angie. I live with Endometriosis, Pelvic Floor Dysfunction, Neural Tension, and C-PTSD. I am passionate about self-compassion and shame resilience, and blog about mental health and well-being at SoAngieWrites.com. I love Counting My Spoons and am grateful for the opportunity to guest post here!
You can connect with me, Angie, on my blog, SoAngieWrites.com, or on my Facebook Page.