Nurses, when you consider the level of compassion with which you treat your patients, do you also consider the possibility that you can treat yourself with that same compassion? Do you feel that you deserve it?
Nurses convey and communicate compassion by default. Our profession is steeped in compassion. And while there are obviously nurses out there who you would not necessarily readily identify as empathic by nature, you would probably agree that the majority of our nursing comrades--both male and female--are indeed caring individuals who spend a great deal of time and energy assuaging the pain and suffering of others.
The Nurse and the Patient
So, let's assume you're a nurse who looks your patients in the eye, holds their hand when appropriate, listens deeply, and creates very real and human connections in your therapeutic relationships. You value your patients, honor their process, acknowledge their pain, and feel deeply for them. You are a sensitive, compassionate, kind and thoughtful clinician. You may have your moments of stress, anguish, anger, disappointment and impatience while at work, but your main mission in your work is to be of heart-centered service.
Look In The Mirror, Nurse
So, my compassionate compatriot, what do you do when you look in the mirror? What self-recrimination and blame do you project on that face staring back at you? How do you hurt that being whom you inhabit in this lifetime?
Conversely, what kind of love and compassion do you extend to that most human and fallible nurse in the looking glass? How do you comfort, feed, water and otherwise tend to that human garden of which you are equally the plant, the soil, the water and the sun?
When you regard your visage in that mirror, how much compassion and empathy is expressed, silently or otherwise? How kind are you towards that nurse and human being who you are?
Treating the Self as Other
Try this, my courageous nurse warrior. When you are suffering, when you're hurting and in pain, see yourself not as yourself, but as another. Be a nurse to your suffering self. Regard yourself as a patient in need of succor and support and the ultimate level of non-judgmental compassion. Can you do that? How does it feel? Can you conjure as much compassion and empathy for yourself as you can for a patient who is wearing their suffering on their sleeve in your very presence?
This self-love and compassion is a lifelong affair, and it's a constant process of growth and learning.
The Faucet of Compassion
If you're nice to yourself on Tuesday, do you then no longer have to try to be kind to yourself the rest of the week? Would you turn off the faucet of compassion for a patient when they had used up some unknown "quota" of compassion that you had allotted for them? Of course not. And the same applies to your relationship with the self.
The faucet of compassion is never turned off, and there's no reservoir of compassion that will some day be devastated by drought. The reservoir of compassion is fueled by love (for self and others). And if we believe that love and compassion are limited resources that we have to horde and dole out in increments, then we're gravely mistaken. The reservoir of compassion is as infinite as the human spirit, as is your ability to share it with others--and (this is the hard part) with yourself.
Homework for the Nurse
Just for today, treat yourself as you would treat a suffering, hurting patient. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be thoughtful. Be empathic. Be gentle.
And then do it again tomorrow.
This post is dedicated with love and respect to my dear friend, the talented author and fellow nurse warrior, Michael Ortiz Hill.