On January 5th, 2018 I had a Total Knee Replacement of my left knee. I am not an expert in recovering from surgery nor am I a rookie. I believe in setting intentions for a solid recovery and for the most part they work. I know how to set high standards and hold myself to that standard.
Last week, about ten days post-op, I had my first physio appointment. I was ready. Being a former physio myself, I had been putting myself through my paces and felt reassured that I was meeting all the requirements for a speedy recovery. The physiotherapist took the wind out of my sails completely when she told me she felt that I had not made enough progress.
Deflated I returned home, and then it hit me, the assault one feels post-op, the effects of drugs and anesthesia, the grief that something inside you has changed, the vulnerability. That was when the tears came, in great gushing waves, taking me by surprise never mind my poor husband. In his kindest voice Jim said to me, “you could exercise a little self-compassion you know”.
And there it was, the thing that so many of us are so bad at, offering ourselves the kind of support we offer everyone else. I see it in others when they are diagnosed with an illness and/or are recovering from surgery or treatment. Women especially, take on the responsibilities of the world and too often leave themselves at the bottom of the priority list, if they are even on the list. And when we get sick, we point the finger at ourselves and ask why we let this happen?
So let’s agree to stop this nonsense, all of us. Turning the corner on my own recovery, I knuckled down and engaged in my exercises. I take the time each morning and night to notice the progress I am making, focusing on the positive versus what is lacking. Nightly I express gratitude for feeling a little better and stronger. And I am exercising self-compassion.
When you are recovering from surgery or a diagnosis of any kind, the first step is to place yourself at the top of your own priority list. The second step is to shift away from any form of judgment and simply be with what is, remembering that you did not cause this problem, it is what it is. Third is to forge a new relationship with yourself, one that is compassionate, caring and loving. Love heals.
So how do we practice self-compassion?
Based on the research of psychologists Kristen Neff and Brene Brown, there are three essential components in cultivating self-compassion:
Self-Kindness vs Self-Judgment
Self-kindness is simply easing up, being gentler and kinder in your comments to yourself. You can start by considering what you might say to someone else in a similar circumstance. What words of caring or encouragement would you offer a child, a spouse, a friend or a colleague facing an illness. Now offer those words to yourself. You are just as deserving, just as important, just as gifted. There is absolutely no need for you to criticize yourself or to judge why this is happening.
Secondly, when facing a situation where you are tempted to come down hard on yourself, think before you leap. Ask yourself what you really need at that moment. Do you really need more criticism making the situation worse, or do you need some loving kindness. Consider the difference this might make for you in moving forward.
Common Humanity vs Isolation
As someone who has great mastery in self-criticism, I can tell you that for many years I thought I was the only one who thought this way, who could be genuinely mean to myself. You see, this is something we just don’t talk about.
When you discuss your illness/diagnosis with others, you discover very quickly that you are not alone, that most of us have a ‘Negative Nellie’ sitting on our shoulder who is willing to jump in at any point and reek emotional havoc.
This is where recovery and support groups, friends and family play a vital role. Sharing your fears, worries and yes, self-criticism, takes power away from those destructive thoughts. What is essential is also learning to ask for help and accepting it when it is offered.
Mindfulness vs Over-Identification
So how do you start. My experience has been that much of the critical noise in my head is like elevator music. It is playing constantly but I am not mindfully aware of it. The first step in taming the critic is to become aware of what you are actually telling yourself, to pay attention to the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are showing up. Then you can exercise compassion and come back to kindness and ask yourself, “what would I rather think or feel? What other behaviors would be better for me?”
In other words, you begin learning to re-program the critic. You make compassionate choices which lift you up, which celebrate who you are, and which acknowledge your gifts. Most importantly, by lifting yourself up in this way, you enhance the recovery process.
This may seem like a lot of work, and it is, and it is important work.
A little compassion goes a long way and can help you make the most of your recovery and future life. It is time for you to live up to all the potential stored inside of you and that will be fueled by every ounce of compassion you can give yourself.
Take a look at this short video as well: The Power of Self-Compassion
Betty Healey, BscPT, MEd., CAPP
Betty Healey is a facilitator, teacher, coach and award-winning author of four books. Her most recent books, ME FIRST – If I Should Wake before I Die and the ME FIRST Playbook, are dedicated to awakening individuals to their full potential.
Betty is a seasoned speaker who enjoys storytelling and engaging audience members in conversations dedicated to discovering the best of who they are and living the life of their choice. She has a keen interest in the area of self-compassion and developing resilience for these demanding times.
Betty began her career as a physiotherapist. She holds a Masters of Educational Psychology from McGill University, with a specialty in adult learning and recently completed her Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology. Betty worked for twenty-five years in the Canadian Health Care system. She launched her company roadSIGNS in 1997. roadSIGNS is dedicated to working with organizations to build ‘strengths-based work cultures’. To learn more about Betty and the work of roadSIGNS, go to www.roadSIGNS.ca.