Resilience Part 4- Practice Self-Compassion – How do you do that while being neurodiverse?

Here are the other blogs in this series:
Resilience – Science-Backed Strategies from a Dyslexic / ADHD Perspective
Resilience Part 2- Change the Narrative – what are some ways we can do that? What about being neurodiverse would make that different from other people?
Resilience Part 3- Face Your Fears – Ways to do that and being neurodiverse
Resilience Part 5- Meditate – Ways to do that and being neurodiverse
Resilience Part 6- Cultivate Forgiveness –being neurodiverse can make it hard to forgive

Welcome back to the fourth blog in this series about resilience, prompted by Kira M. Newman’s article ‘Five Science-Backed Strategies to Build Resilience.’ The third strategy is to practice self-compassion.

Self-compassion is the ability to be kind and understanding to ourselves in the same way that we would be to a friend who is struggling. How easy it can be to verbally beat up on ourselves more than anyone else in our lives. Many of my clients struggle with saying kind things about, or to, themselves and when you have a brain that can sometimes do things you can’t understand you need to have understanding for yourself.

Self-compassion is central to resilience. It is way too easy to be harsh with ourselves. We hear so much about grind culture, and feel the pressure to push beyond our limits in order to reach a higher level of success. Part of self-compassion is listening to ourselves when our bodies are telling us we need a break, food, to get outside, or to rest. Noticing these signals can be more difficult for neurodiverse people, so we need to be intentional about checking in with ourselves regularly and asking- what do I need right now? It can be helpful to have a checklist to run through- am I tired, thirsty, hungry, need to use the bathroom, too hot or cold, or overstimulated? Setting a notification on your phone to remind you to do this check-in can also be helpful.

In order to be compassionate with ourselves, give ourselves what we need, and validate how we feel, we need to understand our feelings. So, let’s talk a bit about Interoception- the communication between your brain and body. This includes things like noticing that you are hungry and taking action to get some food. It may sound simple but for many neurodivergent people that signal gets lost or overlooked, and our bodies can feel uncomfortably hungry for a long time without our brains identifying what that feeling is. I will go with one even simpler example. How many times are you running to the bathroom almost barely making it? Your body told you hours ago that you needed to pee, but there you are, just doing one more thing. Over my years of coaching, I have noticed a higher number of clients get UTIs or bladder infections than the general public. We need to teach ourselves to notice and respond to these signals sooner.

On her blog Authentically Emily, Emily– a young Autistic adult with ADHD– reflects on how to cope with poor interoception. I love hearing about how she extends self-compassion and accommodates herself around this. She writes, “Recognising these cues isn’t inherent to some of us, so we have to learn to recognise them, if we are able to. Something that helps me is setting alarms reminding myself that I need to drink or eat something. Even alarms reminding you to go to the loo can be helpful.” Having difficulty with interoception is common in people with ADHD and Autism. For example, this can look like, not noticing thirst, a need to use the bathroom, feeling overheated, etc., and because those needs are going unaddressed a person can get agitated, unfocused, and meltdown. This cycle can carry a lot of shame, especially when these interoception breakdowns end up making a person lash out at people around them for reasons neurotypicals don’t understand. This is just one of the reasons practicing self-compassion is an essential tool for neurodiverse individuals.

If you want to get a deeper understanding of interoception, this short video explains it well.


Now let’s get into some of Newman’s self-compassion strategies. These can be used to deal with interoception struggles and any other situation that brings up shame and self-criticism.

The Self-Compassion Break is a great in-the-moment strategy for recentering. This only takes a few minutes and asks you to mindfully notice your feelings and say what you feel. This is validating and grounds you in the current moment and experience. Next is to remind yourself that all of us experience suffering, and you are not isolated in this experience. Finally, show yourself kindness. With hands on your heart, give yourself words of acceptance, love, and patience.

Newman brings up this exercise How Would You Treat a Friend? This is all about getting some perspective. As the name suggests, the exercise is about imagining how you would see your own situation if a friend was experiencing it instead. This can help you see the compassion you believe someone deserves in your situation. Often there is a difference between that belief and the belief of what we ourselves deserve. This exercise involves written reflection and takes about 15 minutes. When you are getting down on yourself, but you don’t have 15 minutes, you can still ask yourself how you would treat a friend in your shoes and use your answer to guide you to give yourself some compassion.

Finally, Newman shares the Self-Compassion Letter practice. This one also takes 15 minutes and is all about picking one issue in your life that you feel shame about. You write a letter to yourself validating your feelings and experience, and reminding yourself that you aren’t alone in your struggles. You can then get into ideas for how to move forward and improve how you handle this situation. This last step can bring a sense of power and hope in the face of a daunting issue.

It takes time to rewire our brains toward self-compassion. For many neurodivergent people, the first impulse is shame and blame when we make mistakes or find ourselves struggling, but we all deserve to give ourselves the grace we give others. During the process of learning self-compassion remember that it takes time to unlearn existing patterns, as well as time to build new ones. Be patient and keep trying. Building self-compassion practices is worthwhile and an essential part of resilience.

Just to leave you on a note of hope, I was watching a program recently and they reported on research teaching kindergarten children how to have self-compassion, how to share what they are feeling, and how to decrease anxiety. It was amazing the results they were having. Don’t forget as you learn these steps to resilience to teach them to others.



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