Is everything your fault? It’s easy to become overwhelmed when we're caring. And even easier to start blaming ourselves for everything . So it’s time to be a bit kinder, recognise how awesome we are, and feel a little (or a lot) better.
Many of us talk to ourselves, whether it be the "little voices inside our head" or things we say out loud during the day. On some days, these voices can cheer us on. On other days, these voices can become our inner critics. Blaming us for every single thing that seems to go wrong.
The impact on our wellbeing, is straightforward. The voices that "cheer us on" make us feel good. While the voice that blames us, makes us feel bad.
The way we talk to ourselves matters. We believe what we say. It shapes the beliefs we have about ourselves and therefore how we feel about ourselves.
So, what kinds of things do you say to yourself regularly? What words do you use, when things go wrong? Are you forgiving of yourself or perhaps it's the opposite? Notice how your words make you feel.
When was the last time you said something nice to yourself?
This isn't always easy to do. We can hold ourselves against an impossible standard. A standard we would never expect anyone else to meet. An easy way to think about things is "would I say that to a friend, doing everything I'm doing?". If the answer is "no", it's time for some reflection.
Changing these behaviours won't happen overnight. It starts with us noticing that we're doing it. Simply noticing when we say mean things to ourselves. Once we start to notice, we have the opportunity to shift things to a nicer and more helpful place.
We hope that this blog will help you be more mindful of how words and thoughts can influence how you feel.
If you're feeling uncomfortable at the thought of saying nice things to yourself, that's totally normal! You may be unpicking decades of self esteem issues. And you're most likely stepping right out of your comfort zone.
And you know what they say about stepping out of your comfort zone, right?
“It’s where the magic happens!”
The power of self-talk
What stems from self-talk is self-compassion. Being kinder in the way we talk to ourselves, and not just to those around us.
"Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love" - Brené Brown
It's about being accepting, kind and forgiving of who we are.
The benefits of practising self-compassion
According to The Emily Program, there are many benefits to consistently practising self-compassion. We’ve pulled together our top five, which may most benefit us in our role as carers.
1. It makes us feel happier
Research shows that people who practice self-compassion and self-kindness (self-love), are happier than those who don’t.
2. It helps build resilience
Self-compassion changes how we respond to life’s challenges and can actually make us more resilient.
With self-compassion, we can respond to difficult situations more flexibly. This is because we waste less time criticising ourselves and those around us. And instead, look for more helpful ways to respond to a problem.
3. It helps boost motivation
Juliana G. Breines (2012) research shows that self-compassion is a greater personal motivator than self-criticism.
Carers have long ‘to-do’ lists. Plus, sadly it's not uncommon for us to find ourselves preparing for appeals and tribunals to access the support for the person we look after. Increased motivation would be a big win.
4. It helps with better physical and mental health
Self-compassion has also been matched with better physical and mental health.
With 71% of unpaid carers stating poor mental or physical health, these figures far exceed the general population.
5. It helps us model what we want
By modelling how you expect to be treated, you can attract that kind of treatment. Other people take their lead from you.
It can help you set your boundaries and stick to them. Displaying this behaviour is a clear demonstration to the people around you, as to what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.
This can be so very important in our roles as a carers. For example, it may pave the way for a more balanced caring role of a parent, between siblings. Or simply foster positive and supportive relationships in our lives.
But ultimately, your relationship with yourself is of the highest importance. If you can get that right, it can help other relationships bloom.
As PairedLife puts it,
“Instead of staring into the void of your loneliness and hoping someone will show up, the best way to manifest a relationship with a good partner is to fill that void yourself first. Happy, self-sufficient people are attracted to the same kind of people, after all.”
What does self-compassion look like?
This is unique to each of us, but some common examples include;
Talking kindly to yourself
Giving yourself permission to be happy
Having a break from judging yourself
Doing nice things for yourself
Where did your self-compassion go?
We’re all born complete. When we’re a baby, there is no self-doubt, no self-loathing, no self-esteem issues. It’s simply life that erodes us.
Depending on the things you were exposed to throughout life, your parents, your friends, and the messages you heard growing up, you'll have your own unique level of self-compassion or self-loathing.
Stepping outside of the influence of personal relationships and the culture you grew up in will have also played a part.
Was saying nice things about yourself considered boasting? Was standing up for ourselves considered brazen or ‘being difficult’?
“Just because it was said, doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Thinking back to your seven-year-old self, what reassurance would you like to have given to yourself? What positive affirmations would you share?
“I am strong”
“My opinion matters”
“I have interesting things to say”
“I’m allowed to say when I’m uncomfortable with something”
“I don’t have to remain quiet”
“I am talented”
Which affirmations carry meaning to you?
If your self-compassion is low then you’re not on your own. You have decades of programming to unpick. But you can do it.
Where are you right now?
So where to start? A good starting point is to ask yourself these questions:
When was the last time you said something nice to yourself?
What does your internal dialogue sound like?
How forgiving of yourself are you?
Would you talk to someone else like this?
Note down your answers. How do they make you feel?
Many of us berate ourselves. We notice the things we didn’t do - not the things we did. And so we’re quick to criticise ourselves.
Five ways to start fostering self-compassion
1. Notice your language
Every time you notice yourself putting yourself down, belittling yourself, berating yourself - Stop. Congratulate yourself on noticing - rather than berate yourself further. That's a big first step. It can take a long time to break old habits, but being aware is a great starting point.
2. Reframe your self-talk
Now you’re noticing your language, start to reframe it. For example, if something is going wrong and you find yourself saying, “I’m useless at everything”. Then perhaps this could become “Oops, glad I spotted that. Now I just need to do x to fix y”. Again, be patient, changing old habits takes time.
3. Notice your feelings
This may sound tricky and it will take practise. We each have layers and layers of limiting beliefs and triggered responses to situations. Some responses served us well in the past, but may not be needed now. Pausing objectively to think “why am I in this mood?" or "why did that make me feel like this?" can be really enlightening and empowering. Sometimes we can just “let it go”.
And while we're talking about feelings, it's also important to remember that feelings pass. As carers there can be some very challenging times. Remembering that feelings pass, may give us the strength we need in a particularly tough moment.
Learning how to notice and manage our feelings can really help our long term wellbeing.
4. Notice your awesomeness
Start a daily journal “Today I’m proud of myself for…” and write at least one thing every day, recalling something we are proud of, or handled well. With time, this will become easier, as we start to notice more and more.
Our early entries might simply be “caught myself berating myself today and chose something more positive to say to myself”. And with time our entries may become, “I stood my ground at today’s meeting, speaking with confidence and passion.”
5. Create positive affirmations
These are positive statements that we say about ourselves. Stick them on post-it notes around the bathroom mirror or on the fridge! Say them daily.
Let us know what works for you. Some people like to create affirmation cards. Did you know that our mind believes what we tell it? We have neuroplasticity, which means we can learn new beliefs! What an opportunity.
These techniques work best as a set. And they work best when we apply some self-forgiveness as we learn and trip up along the way.
Yes, we all have time for some self-kindness
Being nicer to ourselves takes no time at all. Handy to know as a busy carer! It’s not about actions per se, and more about feelings, boundaries and language.
“Loving ourselves is about feelings, boundaries and language. None of these take time or energy away from our busy caring lives. But they will definitely enhance our lives.”
If this has really struck a chord with you, then you may be feeling somewhat emotional. That's a healthy response and the start of great healing.
You might like to join our Mobilise Community. It's just for carers and is a great place to get support and wisdom from those who know the challenges (and joys!) of caring. We'd love to have you with us.