We’re all in this together

Using self-compassion to send your ‘negative Stan’ packing

It’s time to come clean, and frankly, I’m relieved. You see, I am a Norton Healthcare chaplain, but I don’t work alone. There is someone else working alongside me. His name is Stan.

Stan goes everywhere I go. He sees the same patients, reads the same medical records and attends the same meetings, yet he’s never been trained in HIPAA guidelines nor had a background check. Every day Stan shows up in his brown polyester pants, tan button-up short sleeve shirt and pocket protector filled with pens. He’s lanky, with an awkward gait and a comb-over second only to his supreme self-righteousness.

Stan is the name I’ve given my sense of shame. Stan pops up at the most inconvenient times. He tells me I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not worthy of being at the table with my peers. He revels in my mistakes, and he never misses a chance to point out I look nothing like a magazine cover guy.

Though Stan may think he’s invincible, he is no match for the power of self-compassion. Self-compassion is to Stan what kryptonite is to Superman.

Dr. Kristen Neff, a compassion expert and professor from the University of Texas at Austin, defines self-compassion as, “Extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure or general suffering.” It involves being mindful of your feelings, intentionally replacing the critical inner-voice with a more compassionate one and recognizing your common humanity.

Research has looked at the role self-compassion in promoting psychological and overall well-being. Evidence supports positive outcomes during painful situations when a person focuses on self-kindness instead of self-judgment.

A recent meeting I attended presented the opportunity to practice self-compassion. As I looked around I marveled at the education, credentials and competency assembled at one table — and then there was me.

Remember that Sesame Street song, “One of these things is not like the other; one of these things just doesn’t belong”? That’s how I felt. It would have been easy (because I have lots of practice) to tell myself:

You don’t belong here. You don’t know what you’re doing. Everyone will soon see this. 

Instead, I reminded myself that the meeting isn’t about credentials or degrees. It’s about working together to give the best care we can to patients and families.

Others may have their own ways to accomplish this goal, but chaplaincy is my vehicle for delivering care. Practicing self-compassion empowered me to feel like an accepted part of the group, and send Stan packing.

Our Pastoral Care Department has a motto we say in good times and bad: We’re all in this together.

When team members step up to support one another, this motto is lifted up.

When staff provides extraordinary compassion, as they did earlier this year when a patient’s family prepared to say good-bye to a loved one, we see this motto in action. As that family gathered after a long vigil of hope and prayer, a young child was there with her mother. Caught up in the day’s emotion, the mother had left home without the child’s diaper bag. A nurse went to Wal-Mart and bought a box of diapers with his own money to make sure the young mother would not have to leave and miss any precious moments with her loved one.

The powerful message of this simple gesture was clear: We’re all in this together.

I commend this motto to you, dear reader, as a reminder we are all part of a common humanity. Joys are shared, and pain is shared.

I hope you will join me on this journey of self-compassion and common humanity. Maybe you, too, have a Stan, and it’s time to replace his blathering with kind words that encourage and empower you. I invite you to try it.

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