emotions mindfulness self-compassion shame therapist

Applying Self-Compassion

also known as The Story of Putting My Client Resources To Use on Myself

I had the wrong time in my head and missed an appointment today.  I sat waiting for my client for awhile and when she didn’t arrive I figured it out that I should have been at my office half an hour earlier.  When I realized I had been late, that my client had already come and gone, I felt terrible. So, so terrible, and a torrent of self criticism flooded me (“I am such a expletive idiot”)

As I hung my head in shame a few resources on my desk caught my eye, one was from Kristen Neff’s work on self compassion.  The exercise recommends practicing the three components of self-compassion in writing.  This was something I had gotten out of my filing cabinet for a client, but the applicabity to myself in that moment was quite plain.   So I went for it and here it is, with Neff’s prompts and my responses:

Mindfulness: bring awareness to the painful emotions without judgment of your experience.

I feel ashamed because I was late.  I want to cry.  I feel like my whole body, especially my head and chest, is bring crushed in a vice grip.  I think how can I call my self a professional, how can I be trusted.

Common humanity: write the ways your experience connects to the larger human experience ie all people have painful experiences, no one is perfect; you can also think about conditions underlying the painful event.

Human beings are imperfect and make mistakes.  I’m not the only person who has forgotten, been late or mistimed a meeting.

Self kindness: write some kind, comforting words to yourself to show caring and to reassure yourself.

I messed up and it is not the end of the world.  I might even be forgiven and/or the person I stood up might be able to relate or even be comforted by seeing another person making a mistake.  I am a good therapist and people do benefit from working with me as a fellow imperfect being who cares deeply about the feelings of others.

I followed the instructions of the exercise and immediately the rush of emotions slowed down and by the end of it I felt much better.  I was able to do some brainstorming on ways to avoid making that mistake again in the future.  I decided to share my written exercise here in the interest of deconstructing the myth that we need to be perfect in order to be seen as worthy of approval or success, also to practice the technique of dispelling shame by sharing the story of what created it; thank you Brene Brown.

So there’s my story and now you know I am not a perfect person or a perfect therapist.   I second guessed sharing this, a few times, for fear of negative perceptions.  I decided to go ahead with it, because of the reasons above and, perhaps more importantly because if I cannot practice what I preach then I am doing a disservice to myself and my clients.

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