Caregivers often receive advice regarding the importance of caring for their own health and well-being as they journey with their loved ones through Alzheimer’s disease.
Basically, it means they need to take actions and approaches to care for their own mind, body and spirit. Self-compassion is similar, but refers more to an attitude.
Self-compassion, emphasized in Buddhist teachings, describes the steps you need to take toward loving yourself in a natural and healthy way.
Based on these philosophies, Dr. Kristin Neff, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, defined and introduced to the positive psychology literature the measurable constructs of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.
Basically, Neff explained, self-compassion is “simply accepting ourselves with an open heart.”
The Alzheimer’s caregiver needs to be aware of the concepts of self-compassion, and to be able to forgive and accept themselves, especially in situations that are overwhelming, misunderstood and frustrating, which is often the case.
Rather than being critical or judging themselves harshly when they are already feeling emotional pain, caregivers need to learn to recognize the negative influence of self-judgment and treat themselves with warmth and patience instead.
Clinical psychologist Steven Hickman, the founding director of the San Diego Center for Mindfulness at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, explains: “Self-compassion is the act of noticing when you're struggling, recognizing that's actually part of being human, and being kind to yourself rather than beating yourself up.”
Self-compassion builds resilience, helping caregivers with the challenges they face each day. That self-compassion, Hickman says, “allows us to weather difficulty without sending us into a spiral of self-criticism or self-blame or shame.”
Evidence in a review published in Clinical Psychologist suggests that individuals who practice more self-compassion are more likely to have better relationships that are illustrated by warmth and emotional validation, in addition to greater emotional awareness, clarity and acceptance.
Self-compassion is also linked to increased ability to respond to stress in a more flexible way and helps reduce depression and anxiety. Those who are self-compassionate are less likely to engage in harmful avoidance and worry, which in turn can serve as protection from emotional disorders.
Self-compassion can result in a drastic change of perspective and requires adopting new approaches, which can take practice. For example, caregivers should try treating themselves as they would a friend, becoming aware of negative internal dialogues, finding small ways for self-kindness, journaling and guided meditation. Look online for loving-kindness meditation developed by author and Buddhist meditation instructor Sharon Salzberg.
"With self-compassion, we acknowledge pain and suffering as part of the human experience, along with joy and goodness,” Neff says.