THE POWER of SELF-EMPATHY

The need for wellness and self care amongst physicians continues to make the news. According to an article posted in the New York Times on February 8th, “an October poll of 862 emergency physicians nationwide from the American College of Emergency Physicians and Morning Consult found that 87 percent felt more stressed since the onset of Covid-19, with 72 percent experiencing a greater degree of professional burnout…Yet consistent with a longstanding stigma surrounding physician mental health, 45 percent weren’t comfortable seeking mental health treatment, citing concerns about workplace stigma and fear of professional reprisal”. 

In light of these staggering numbers, it is essential for physicians to find healthy ways of diminishing their stress levels. Since nearly half of doctors are uncomfortable seeking mental health treatment, they need to have access to other options. As a Co-active and Positive Intelligence Mental Fitness Coach, I believe that coaching is a wonderful alternative. Coaching and the Positive Intelligence framework can provide physicians with the necessary tools to learn how to make space for self-care, which is so especially needed at this time.  

One of the tools that is most useful in this particular scenario, is the Sage power of empathy. Empathy is our ability to share and understand the emotions of another. Essentially, it’s our ability to love unconditionally, without judgement. The Positive Intelligence operating system provides the framework for us to grow our ability to experience empathy both for others AND for ourselves. I believe that as doctors we are quite good at holding empathy for others, but we are horrible at doing the same for ourselves. Only by extending this grace to ourselves can we approach self care from a place of positivity, and not be filled by emotions of self-criticism, such as guilt or shame. 

Below I share with you an exercise you can choose to do to begin building your power of self empathy. Try not to judge it, and just give it a chance. You may be surprised.

To start the practice, first find a picture of yourself when you were a kid (preferably less than age 7). If the picture is not portable, take a picture of the picture with your cell phone so that you can always have it available. Then, close your eyes and bring to mind someone whom you love without reserve. Anyone to whom you have always given compassion, understanding, acceptance, and love without expecting anything in return (can even be a pet). As you allow the image of that being to come to you, allow yourself to experience all the love that you hold for that someone. Truly lean into all the sensations that those emotions elicit in your body. What ever it is, let it wash over you and take over every cell of your body. Give yourself the permission to dwell in this space for a bit. Once you have a secure hold of the emotions of love that you have for that being, pull out your picture. Look at that picture of yourself as a child, and transfer all the sensations of love that you have been experiencing onto that child-onto yourself. Try not pay attention to the circumstances of the picture. If memories of the day of the picture come to you, try to gently go back to looking at the details of your face, your expression, your eyes- fully seeing, recognizing, and acknowledging the being who you were in the picture, and who you still are. 

Try doing this at least once per day, and over time you will see your power of empathy grow. You will find that this will lead to a much healthier way of interacting with yourself (and others, too).

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