Self-compassion, recognising that it is a tough time and offering care to yourself is a good way to protect against depression, says Texas professor Kristin Neff.
“Infertility can be accompanied by feelings of guilt and a sense of shame. This type of self-criticism releases high levels of cortisol, the hormone which creates feelings of stress and can lead to depression, ” says Dr Neff.
She argues that boosting self-compassion rather than focusing on self-esteem (which is dependent on success and meeting standards) is a positive way to help individuals cope with infertility.
She says: “Self-compassion means recognising when you are having a difficult time and offering the same care and comfort to yourself that you would to another.”
Her research found that where women have a stronger capacity for self-compassion this helped them to cope better and distance themselves from the opinions of outsiders.
However, for men levels of self-compassion were often lower and the impact of internal and external shame was compounded by their own sense of self-judgement, when feeling internally and externally stressed. This increased the likelihood that they might also experience feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and depressive symptoms. (Gelhardo et al 2013).
Feeling defeated was connected to infertility related depression for both men and women so changing behaviours to help couples cope better is an important role for fertility counselling.
Compassion can be seen as a lesser virtue and confused as ‘caring’ and as women often have the role of caretaker it is easy to see why compassion is described as something that women give to others rather than something they display toward themselves.
However as the old saying goes: we cannot give what we do not have. So to give compassion from the heart it must be experienced in the heart.
So what then is self-compassion?
According to this definition by Kristin Neff self-compassion includes three elements:
- Self-kindness—being kind and understanding toward oneself in instances of pain or failure rather than being harshly self-critical
- Common humanity—perceiving one’s experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than seeing them as separating and isolating
- Mindfulness—holding painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness rather than over-identifying with them.
Self-compassion is therefore an emotionally positive self-attitude that could protect against the negative consequences of self-judgment, isolation and depression.
Neff also makes an important distinction between self-compassion and self pity: “Self-pity tends to emphasize egocentric feelings of separation from others and exaggerate the extent of personal suffering.
“Self-compassion, on the other hand, allows one to see the related experiences of self and other without these feelings of isolation and disconnection.
“With self-compassion, you don’t have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself. Self-compassion also allows for greater self-clarity, because personal failings can be acknowledged with kindness and do not need to be hidden.
“Moreover, self-compassion isn’t dependent on external circumstances, it’s always available – especially when you fall flat on your face! Research indicates that in comparison to self-esteem, self-compassion is associated with greater emotional resilience, more accurate self-concepts, more caring relationship behaviour, as well as less narcissism and reactive anger.”
Compassionate accountability is a commitment to kind self-truth telling. It is the act of stepping up to the authorship of your life. It is the gentle re-establishment of faith bounded by principles that you protect just as much for yourself as you do for others.
It is the courage to act heroically when the person to be rescued is you.