Guestbloggers: Jane F. Gilgun, PhD & Samantha Hirschey, MSW, School of Social Work, University of Minnesota
Maria is a fifth-grade girl that has been placed into foster care. Maria was walking to class through a crowded hallway. The school principal was standing at the office door greeting the children. Maria tripped and dropped her books onto the principal’s feet. The principal said “ouch” and Maria was embarrassed.
Maria shared this story with her social worker, Vonnie, during the car ride to visit her mom. Maria told her social worker, “I’m clumsy. I’m stupid.”
Vonnie said “Oh, Maria. Wait a minute. You think you’re stupid and clumsy?”
Maria says “Yeah. I just dropped my books all over the principals feet! I could have hurt him. I feel bad.”
“I didn’t know you felt that way about yourself, Maria. People drop books, sometimes that happens.”
Maria hangs her head and pulls her long hair in front of her eyes as she sits in the back seat of the car. She says, “I am such a loser.”
“Was the principal upset with you?” Vonnie asks. Maria says “I don’t know, I don’t think so.”
“You know, accidents happen, people drop things all the time. Let’s grab lunch quick before we meet mom. We can talk more about how you feel. Does that sound okay, would you like to do that Maria?”
Maria looks up. “Yes.”
“What would you like? Burgers & fries? Pizza?”
“Pizza it is. What do you want to drink? Soda? Milk?”
“OK. Let’s go find pizza and soda then.” Maria nods in agreement.
Maria’s putdowns of herself show a lack of self-compassion. Rather than seeing herself as a human being who doesn’t always perform to perfection and is still okay, she holds herself to unrealistic expectations and feels like a failure when she doesn’t meet her own expectations.
Self-compassion is acceptance of ourselves, as worthy of love and respect, during good times and times of stress. When we have self-compassion, we recognize and accept our positive qualities and our imperfections. Examples of self-compassion are, “I have good qualities. I take good care of my dog. I messed up when I didn’t come home when Pops told me to. I’m going to have say I’m sorry.”
The opposite of self-compassion is self-rejection. When we have self-rejection, we have negative regard for ourselves and believe we are unworthy and unlovable. Our self-rejection is largely outside of our awareness. Self-rejecting thoughts and emotions arise when something sets them off, like dropping books on the principal’s feet, getting yelled at, or being disappointed. Examples of self-rejecting statements are those that Maria used and others, such as “I’m stupid.” “I’m no good.” “No one will ever love me.” “I wish I were dead.” Clients often make self-accepting and self-rejecting statements. When they appear to accept themselves, affirm their self-acceptance. Here are some simple things to say. “You did that well” or “Good work” or “Thank you.” When they put themselves down by stating, “I’m a loser,” say, what Vonnie the social worker said, “Oh, Maria. Wait a minute. You think you’re stupid and clumsy?”.
You may be surprised to learn that clients have never talked to anyone about their self-rejecting beliefs. As they listen to themselves, they often realize that these statements hurt themselves and often hurt others. They may want to talk about whose voice they think this is. Sometimes it is a parent’s voice. Sometimes it is someone else’s. Sometimes no one has ever spoken to them this harshly. It is as if they have thought the worst about themselves without being aware that they do so. Often just talking about the words of the inner critic is the beginning of letting go of negative self-talk. Clients will talk to us about these things if they trust us. So, building relationships of trust is important if we are to foster self-compassion in others. Relationships are the foundation of effective practice and personal growth.
When people develop self-compassion, they become more compassionate toward others. They can see the positive qualities of others more clearly. They become less jealous and feel less inferior to others. They are less critical and more accepting of the imperfections of others. Self-compassion, then, is a two-way street. The more I can practice self-compassion, the more compassionate I will be toward others. This works for clients and for child welfare professionals. Professionals become more effective the more self-compassion they develop in themselves.
Websites and Videos
- The Three Components of Self-Compassion: Kristin Neff
- Parenting a Self-Compassionate Child: Kristin Neff
- The Space Between Self-Compassion and Self-Esteem: Kristin Neff
- Strengthening the Mind Through Self-Compassion
- Cognitive Behavioral Tools: LuAnn Helms – Managing abusive self-talk (8:25-11:16)
- Two Views on Being Human: Jane Gilgun
- What Compassion is and is Not: Jane Gilgun
- Being Present to Children with Sexual Trauma: Jane Gilgun
- When Children Say “I’m bad:” Jane Gilgun
- Children Disclose Sexual Abuse When They Feel Safe: Jane Gilgun
- Becoming a Self-Compassionate Social Service Provider: Samantha Hirschey & Jane Gilgun
- Gilbert, P. (Ed.). (2005). Compassion: Conceptualisations, Research and Use in Psychotherapy. Routledge.
- Gilgun, Jane F. & Samantha Hirschey (2015). Girls’ Aggression & Child Welfare Social Work. St. Paul, MN: Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare. Free as an e-book on Smashwords, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble.
- Megele, Claudia (2015). Psychosocial and Relationship-Based Practice. Norwich, UK: Critical Publishing.
- Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and identity, 2(2), 85-101.
- Neff, K. (2013). Self-compassion Step by Step: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. Sounds True.
- Ruch, Gillian (2005). Relationship practice and reflective practice: Holistic approaches to contemporary child care social work. Child and Family Social Work, 10, 111-123.