Compassion for Ourselves

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Written by Rebecca Rose, RVT for CAETA

When I asked a friend and colleague how they define “self-compassion,” they replied “being selfish.” I imagine several of you reading this feel the same selfishness because of a conditioning occurring in your past. Perhaps someone once told you to always care for others before yourself. Let’s test this assumption, test the conditioning. What if we rephrase it to “compassion for self?’ How does that feel? How about “inner self training” or “inner resiliency training?” As veterinary team members, we shower compassion on patients and clients during euthanasia. We notice their suffering and offer empathy and compassion. Compassion for self is offering kindness, understanding, and grace inwardly, and it’s something we should be doing more of in euthanasia-related work. 

According to Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, failing, or noticing something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself, “this is really difficult right now. How can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?” 

Why is it difficult for people (in general) to shower compassion on themselves? It’s a valid question. When someone chooses to embrace self-compassion, everything else falls into place. Lack of self-compassion in ourselves may be what’s leading to burnout and compassion fatigue. Appreciation and understanding of self-compassion are ways to find more compassion satisfaction. Traits embraced in compassionate care create and maintain a healthy, sustainable life and career in veterinary medicine. 

Three tips in compassion for self:

  1. Self-kindness is being warm and understanding, and noticing when we are suffering or feeling inadequate. Instead of ignoring the feeling, recognize we are imperfect, experiencing life with all its ups and downs and side-ways. It’s being gentle, without judgment, with acceptance. This awareness is a profound, emotional shift that allows kindness to inch its way in. 
  2. Common humanity is recognizing things will not go exactly as planned and that every human being is experiencing life that includes mistakes, regrets, and suffering. The very definition of being “human” is that of mortality, vulnerability, and imperfection. This is part of the shared human experience. You are not alone in this. 
  3. Mindfulness is tapping into your personal self-talk (both the negative and positive). It’s realizing the chatter-boxing going on in your head is yours alone to turn on and off at your discretion. Be open to feelings (neither right nor wrong, they just are), observe without denying, and see the fleeting feeling for what is, the experience in the moment. In one moment, we are unable to feel both anger and acceptance—it’s a choice. In one moment, we are unable to feel both fear and courage—it’s a choice. In one moment, we are unable to feel pain and delight—again, it’s a choice. 

I hope these words piqued your curiosity to learn more about compassion for self, showering yourself with kindness, understanding, and grace, and I hope they inspire you to create a healthier, satisfying career and life in veterinary medicine. Your patients and clients need you to love yourself as you do them, especially on hard days. Self-compassion can be a stepping stone to greater happiness.

References and Resources

Self-Compassion, Dr. Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion Organization, https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/

Dr. Kristin Neff, video, 2-Minute Tips https://youtu.be/8lnU4fZ3eiM

Take the Self Compassion Test

Self Compassion Exercises

https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/

Mindful Breathing, Rebecca Rose, CVT, Veterinary Practice News, https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/mindful-breathing-10-minutes-a-day-can-lead-to-better-health/ 

Stanford Medicine, The Scientific Benefits of Self Compassion; ccare.stanford.edu/uncategorized/the-scientific-benefits-of-self-compassion-infographic

Compassionomics; The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence THAT CARING Makes a Difference, https://www.amazon.com/Compassionomics-Revolutionary-Scientific-Evidence-Difference/dp/B07RWDXDXL/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=compassionomics&qid=1673543403&sr=8-1 

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Rebecca Rose, RVT

Rebecca Rose, RVT, is a credentialed leader in the veterinary community with experience managing clinics, collaborating with industry partners, authoring articles and books, and facilitating engaging team workshops. The former NAVTA president's enthusiasm for professional development in veterinary medicine is contagious. She encourages and supports veterinary teams in reaching their highest potential to maintain a healthy, sustainable life and career.