Even after years of progress, there’s an unspoken expectation women prioritize others’ needs over their own in order to be considered a “good woman.” And while it can feel good to help people, every time we unthinkingly say yes to our friend or partner or child or colleague because we think we should—without checking in with ourselves to see whether this is what we really want—we’re reinforcing gendered norms of self-sacrifice. This isn’t to say that we should never choose to meet others’ needs instead of our own, but we want to do it as a conscious choice, after considering all possible options, not because we think we must in order to be a good person. And when we recognize that a choice isn’t right for us, self-compassion demands that we honor our needs and do something else to meet our needs.
Sometimes we need tenderness, sometimes we need fierceness, and other times we need to make a change. You can take inventory of different aspects of fierce and tender self-compassion and think about what you might need in the moment to care for yourself.
What Do You Need to Take Care of Yourself Right Now?
Are you feeling bad about yourself or unworthy in some way? Perhaps you just need to accept yourself with love and understanding, knowing that it’s okay to be imperfect.
Are you upset about something and need some comfort? Try using some soothing touch to calm your body. Then consider what caring words you might say to a dear friend going through a similar situation. Also consider the tone of voice you might use. Then try saying the same thing, in the same way, to yourself.
Is there a part of you that feels you don’t have the right to complain, or have you been so focused on fixing things you haven’t fully acknowledged how much you’re struggling in the moment? Try verbalizing your feelings in a way that affirms what is true for you. You might try saying aloud, “This is incredibly hard” or “Of course you’re having difficulty. Anyone would in your situation.”
Is there someone overstepping boundaries, maybe asking too much of you or making you feel uncomfortable? Try standing tall and drawing on some fierce self-compassion to courageously say no. You don’t have to do it in a mean way, but be firm in communicating what is acceptable and what’s not.
Has someone harmed or mistreated you? Do you feel angry about it or are you suppressing your anger in a way that is unhealthy? Give yourself permission to get angry, calling on the power of your desire to protect those you love. You’ll want to be wise in how you express your anger so that it’s constructive rather than destructive, but allow yourself to fully feel your anger and let it flow freely in your body. This is a face of love.
Have you asked yourself what you need to be happy and fulfilled? The first step is knowing what we need, and the second step is taking action to make sure we actually get it. Write down what needs you think aren’t being met: emotional support, sleep, laughter? Tell yourself that you deserve to be happy and fulfilled. Also remind yourself that others may not be available to meet your needs. What are some ways that you can meet your needs yourself? For example, if you need touch, can you get a massage? If you need rest, can you set aside two days on your own to just relax? If you need love, can you commit to giving yourself tenderness and affection?
Are you stuck in a situation—like a job or relationship or living situation—that’s making you unhappy? Do you find yourself repeating a behavior that’s harming you in some way, like smoking or procrastinating or watching too much TV? Can you try to motivate a change using kindness and understanding rather than harsh self-criticism?
Can you inspire yourself the way a good coach might, pointing out ways you can improve things while demonstrating support and belief in your own capacity to accomplish your goals?
From the book Fierce Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. Copyright © 2021 by Kristin Neff. Published by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.
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