When self-compassion is the key to helping others

I was supporting a family member via text. Family member was in a perceived crisis, one of those times when our reptilian brain tells us we are in imminent danger and the danger is really our fears–of failure, change, vulnerability. The fears are real; and they are not the saber tooth cat or the life-or-death outcomes our reptilian brain evolved to protect us from.

photo of a tiger roaring
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I was grateful I could provide family member so much advice on the spot–advice to empower, help ground, provide goggles to see through the reptilian-brain fog. I was talking to myselves as much as I was talking to family member. Do you know what I mean?

As Byron Katie says, “We say to others only what we need to hear.”

I believe her words. I give advice best when I am also saying it to myselves.

I had therapy earlier in the day and so had some mental resources available to support family member. And family member was not in a particularly receptive mood–meaning family member is in a crisis and so my words were little more than words. It was the fact that I was there and offering loving kindness that helped the most, I think. That has value. I’m not complaining–yet.

Okay, here’s my complaint: I was getting annoyed that family member was starting to re-ask the same questions and was getting stuck in “analysis paralysis.” I tried to look inside myselves to see how I could survive this, as we are highly empathic (here “I” go slipping into “we” again; please forgive).

What I realized is that we needed compassion, too. Right then. Immediately. And we most needed it from ourself!

Wow. Big insight. We’ve read about it a lot, from Marshall Rosenberg to Beverly Engel to Christopher Germer: when in a difficult situation, pause and offer yourself compassion.

It’s the old airline advice: secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others. There is real wisdom in that advice.

people inside commercial air plane
Photo by Sourav Mishra on Pexels.com

If the plane has suffered a loss of pressure severe enough that the oxygen masks drop, if you secure your child’s mask first, you may lose consciousness and die before you can get your own mask on. If you secure your mask first, you will have plenty of time to put your child’s mask on without any additional detriment to your child.

I was helping a loved one and noticed a loss of cabin pressure and my parts’ own need for oxygen.

I didn’t really know how to offer myself compassion, so I let it be easy. I said, “This is really hard,” and put a hand on our heart. It helped. When loved one persisted in asking for help via text, we paused to ensure we were okay before proceeding. Our responses were nicer because we took time to care for us before responding.

The loved one survived the perceived crisis. Loved one keeps texting about how bad it was, how hard. I replied to recognize and honor the pain without clinging to it. See the pain and let it pass, as it surely will. With the fears of everyday life, cabin pressure is usually returned within a reasonable amount of time. Still, we’ll be a lot more comfortable if we offer ourselves some oxygen even as we help others.

2 thoughts on “When self-compassion is the key to helping others

  1. Love this. Good job in recognizing yous need compassion and that giving it to yourselves first is a good way to be more open and engaged in outside world life. Really like the statement “…so I let it be easy.” Hard to do! Letting things be easy. Very smart. I tend to go overboard on the obsessive thoughts and make easy things hard. Really like the thoughts of giving advice is easier when you know you are also hearing it for yourselves. Love yous!

    Liked by 1 person

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