My five most recent posts (“A Message to the Nurse’s Soul“, “A Message to the Nurse’s Heart“, “A Message to the Nurse’s Head“, “A Message to the Nurse’s Gut” and “A Message to the Nurse’s Longing“) have become a powerful series of missives meant to dig deeper into the heart of nursing. This week’s post continues that exploration, adding the new theme of self-compassion to the mix.
Nurses are without saying well-known for exhibiting and embodying compassion in their work with patients. Compassion is one of the pillars of nursing, and I feel our profession does a wonderful job of making compassion for others part and parcel of what we do and who we are.
But What About Self-Compassion?
With all of this compassion for our patients flying around, does it ever seem to you that nurses lack the ability—or the wherewithal—to feel compassion for themselves? Do nurses give away all of their compassion and then forget to leave a little bit aside for their own personal well-being?
It’s all well and good to exude compassion towards others, and as I said earlier, we’re all very good at that. But when it comes down to it, how do you cultivate self-compassion—or do you even bother?
The Compassion Engine
Self-compassion is an important engine that can actually drive and feed our compassion towards others. Self-compassion allows us to stoke the internal engine of compassion and then bring that compassion out into the world for the benefit of others.
When we practice self-compassion for ourselves, we practice softening towards ourselves just as we soften towards our patients.
For example, if a patient is being verbally abusive or attacking towards staff, it may be that he or she is simply exhibiting fear by lashing out at others. As a nurse, I’m sure you’ve come across a situation wherein a patient is being belligerent or difficult, and if you take the time to check in and find out what’s really going on, you can quickly get past the belligerence to the heart of how they’re feeling. As you already know, a patient’s resistance or difficult behavior is often the outward expression of fear or anxiety, and a little compassion goes a long way towards shifting them (and you) into a more receptive, cooperative space.
Demonstrating that kind of compassion for your patients can fuel the engine of your compassion, and you can then turn that compassion inward, being just as patient with yourself as you are able to be with your patients.
Practice Makes Perfect—Even With Compassion
So, my nurse friends, compassion takes practice, and you probably have more practice with your patients than you do with yourself. So, when you’re being compassionate with a patient or their family, think about how you can take that compassion and use it for your own growth and wellness.
Be as kind and patient with yourself as you are with others. Be as thoughtful towards yourself as you are with others. Treat yourself with the same kid gloves, and know that every time you demonstrate compassion, you’re strengthening your compassion muscles, and those are important muscles indeed.