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'You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves...' - Mary Oliver

Deeply loving ourselves is one of the most radical things we will ever do!

By loving ourselves we feel free to pursue our dreams, we confidently set boundaries with others, and we know how to be kind and gentle with ourselves when we experience setbacks, heartbreak, loss and disappointments. At a recent workshop I facilitated as part of the IMPACT trade union and Women for Election INSPIRE training day, I had the wonderful privilege to engage with 40 women who are working voluntarily for the rights of all workers in their sector. The day was about encouraging women to run for election to senior levels within the trade union and therefore taking on key decision-making and leadership roles influencing policies and practices.

IMPACT trade union Women's INSPIRE training day with Women for Election The central message of my workshop on Building Confidence was that a key component of confidence is resilience and a key component of resilience is self-compassion. Without self-compassion we cannot trust ourselves to be gentle and kind if we take a risk and we fail. We will stop short of reaching for our dreams to avoid disappointment. We will not allow ourselves to fall in love in case we get hurt. And we will be wary of allowing joy into our hearts for fear of losing it again. We need to know that we will be there for ourselves as our own best friend, through the ups and downs of life. If we cannot lovingly support ourselves through each new endeavour it will become too painful to do anything different, and our lives will become comfortably boring (at best) and restrictingly narrow and depressing (at worse). While we typically say that we fear 'others' harsh judgment of us if we try something new and fail, yet it is usually we ourselves who are our most cruel critics. Imagine for a moment what it would feel like energetically in your body and mind if you didn't criticize yourself when you made a mistake. If instead you comforted yourself, told yourself that you will learn from this, and even if you make the same mistake again, you will still love and forgive yourself, afterall you're only human! Can you feel the relief? "Compassion isn't some kind of self-improvement project or ideal that we're trying to live up to. Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections that we don't even want to look at." Pema Chodron

Why & what are the benefits? Self-compassion boosts resilience, increases self-worth, builds the motivation to bounce back after a setback, increases feelings of happiness, develops a more positive body image, gives you the courage to take risks and move out of your comfort zone, enables you to navigate failures, heartbreak and loss. The researcher Kristen Neff describes self-compassion as treating yourself with the same type of kind, caring support and understanding that you would show to a dear friend. She breaks self-compassion down into three core components:

1. Self-kindness. Instead of judging yourself harshly respond to mistakes, failures or disappointments with kinder, gentler words. If you notice you are constantly criticizing yourself, stop. Take a breath and ask yourself what would I say to my best friend if she/he was saying these things about themselves? Then replace your inner dialogue with those kind words. The take some time to actively soothe yourself by giving yourself a hug, or do something nice for yourself such as going for a walk, buy some flowers, or take a break and give yourself a treat.

2. Common humanity. Acknowledge that suffering and personal failure is a universal experience. Instead of feeling alone in your pain and suffering remember that nobody has a ‘perfect’ life we all experience setbacks.

3.Mindfulness. Observe your negative emotions without focusing on them or suppressing them. Acknowledge your pain or discomfort and name it to yourself ‘I’m feeling angry/sad/frustrated' and listen gently to why you are feeling like this. You might like to journal/free write about these feelings to help you understand what is going on at a deeper level.

A Daily Practice: Setting Boundaries

Self-love and compassion isn't all about doing nice things for ourselves, although that is a core component. The more challenging side of self-compassion is the boundary-setting part. Whenever I discuss this in my programmes this is where the greatest challenges lie for us all! To truly love ourselves there are going to be times when we need to protect our time and energy, when we will need to say no to someone or something, and when we will need to move away from people who are sapping our energy. If you are feeling overstretched and exhausted ask yourself: where and whom do I need to put a boundary in place with? What would that look like? Is there anyone who can help/support me to put that boundary in place? How much time/energy would that free up for me? What would that liberate me to do with that time/energy instead?

"You don't want to beat yourself up for beating yourself up in the vain hope that it will somehow make you stop beating yourself up. Just as hate can't conquer hate, but only strengthens and reinforces it, self-judgment can't stop self-judgment." Kristen Neff

Resources: Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, Places that Scare You by Pema Chodron and Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -- over and over announcing your place in the family of things. As always, thank you for taking the time to read this blog. If you have any questions please feel free to email me at Sending you warm wishes, Shirley xx

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