Ever travel with children or those needing assistance? Then you are quite familiar with the instructions flight attendants give passengers to put the mask on yourself first before helping others. Makes sense right?
Perhaps Lama Yeshe said it best, “Be gentle first with yourself if you wish to be gentle with others.” After all, how can you help others if you aren’t in the best shape to fully do so? That’s why the mask has to go on you first—the airlines aren’t pushing self-compassion, they are insuring safety for all involved, including yourself. That’s self-compassion.
But what if you think being helpful to yourself, acting kindly and with self-compassion, is self-indulgent and selfish? What if, “Put on your big girl or boy panties and stop whining!” rings between your ears and behind your eyes?
I’d advise you to take Kristin Neff’s 2009 well-known test to determine your level of self-compassion. She is the author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. You can find her test, for free, here: http://www.self-compassion.org/test-your-self-compassion-level.html.
Here are a few questions from the test:
1. When I’m feeling down, I tend to obsess and fixate on everything that’s wrong.
2. When things are going badly for me, I see the difficulties as part of life that everyone goes through.
3. When times are really difficult, I tend to be tough on myself.
When you act kindly towards yourself, towards others and are free of judgment towards the world, you are anchored in self-compassion. When you demand that you be perfect, that others treat you exactly the way you want to be treated (and not the way you don’t want to be treated) and when you insist that the world and your life be exactly as you expect it to be, you are drifting far from self-compassion.
Who isn’t inadequate in some way? Who hasn’t erred or slipped up? It’s easier for many to be gentle and supportive of others facing life’s inevitable bumps, hurdles and challenges than to bring that understanding towards oneself. We often believe, erroneously, that we “should” rush to put the mask on others first, only to find we are gasping for air and ultimately as a result are unable to be fully helpful.
What can you do? Try these three steps:
1. Spend time each day simply observing how you treat a friend in need. That’s your game plan for how to treat yourself. To do so, however, you will need to overcome self-talk that prevents you from doing so. Catch those “ANTs” (automatic negative thoughts) and stomp them out. “She’s different than I am and really needs the help” can be replaced with, “We are all just human and I deserve kindness and understanding as well.”
2. Lacking in self-compassion often leads to social isolation. Catch yourself hiding from the human race. With a self-critical inner voice, you are doomed to staring at your four walls, comparing and despairing, putting yourself down, exaggerating the good of others while criticizing yourself. Ask yourself how a good friend would talk with you about your doing this? That’s your game plan for self-talk.
3. Use the STOPP technique fhttp://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/STOPP2.pdf to increase your awareness of yourself, to name, accept and investigate how you are thinking and perhaps how unkind you are being to yourself.
a. Stop and step back.
b. Take a breath
c. Observe your thoughts and actions
d. Pull back with perspective
e. Practice what’s working right
Buddha reminds us of the value of self-compassion, “You can search throughout the universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the universe, deserve your love and affection.”
Now, be sure to remember to put the mask on yourself first.