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The Challenge to be Self-Compassionate​

· Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is a difficult thing to cultivate in a culture of shame and health stigma. In order for you to feel better, to feel better about yourself, and to self-heal, you need to develop much self-compassion. What does it mean to have self-compassion? It is being able to live with yourself in a caring and kind way. It is talking to yourself with care and kindness, particularly during times when you have an inclination to do otherwise. It is releasing negative self-judgment and criticism. It is loving and accepting yourself unconditionally. It is caring for yourself in the most compassionate of ways. It’s being able to hold yourself in your own heart.

How can you be compassionate toward yourself if you are also feeling shame and stigma, or if you are labeling and pathologizing yourself as a result of having a health condition? A label is meant to define a health condition or a feature of a health condition, not a human being. To have symptoms does not make you abnormal. Symptoms are simply the body’s way of sending you a message. You are not your health condition. One of the most compassionate things you can do for yourself is to challenge this assumption so that you don’t continue to shame and stigmatize yourself for having a health condition.

When we label health conditions as either physical or mental, we are saying that the cause of illness or condition originates or manifests either physically or mentally, or that they affect you physically or mentally. Is it helpful for you to make such a distinction? Does a physical health condition only affect you physically? Does a mental health condition only affect you mentally? This kind of false distinction contributes to the culture of shame and stigma we experience when we are unwell. The reality is that it is not just mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress that are the subject of shame and health stigma, but also physical health conditions such as dystonia, fibromyalgia, or the countless neurological conditions that affect the brain and nervous system. We can experience symptoms physically, mentally, and emotionally from any of these conditions.

A more holistic way to look at your overall health is to understand that the mind and body work together. When you do something physical like yoga or walking, it impacts positively on your brain (a physical part of the body). Exercise can change the brain and the body. Exercise training can actually increase the size of the hippocampus and improve memory. So your brain literally grows bigger and stronger through exercise. Even just a walk a day can positively impact brain functioning. You are not actually doing anything mentally to affect change in your mental health status. You are doing something physical to affect change in the structure and function of your brain. As a result of this change, you feel better, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Conversely, when you actually do something mentally, such as repeating positive statements or affirmations, you will also feel better mentally, emotionally, and physically.

So what does this really mean if you want to heal and feel better? Primarily, try to avoid labeling and treating yourself as abnormal or unhealthy. It is not helpful, nor is it kind or compassionate. The mind and the body communicate with each other. You can actually feel the impact that thoughts have on your body. When you direct positive and kind thoughts toward yourself to heal and feel better, you will feel it. Your mind is extraordinary. It needs to be properly utilized, not pathologized. This is a big part of cultivating self-compassion. Understanding that every part of you works together, and that every part of you needs to be valued and appreciated, not shamed or stigmatized. Be kind to yourself and cultivate and nurture self-compassion through embracing the whole of you.

Copyright © 2016. Sylvia Carlson. All Rights Reserved.

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