Expert Explains Importance of Self-Compassion to Burn Survivors, Caregivers

by Nate Caminata

Kristin Neff, PhD, opened Friday at the Phoenix Society’s World Burn Congress with a presentation on self-compassion, a topic that is applicable to not just the burn survivor community, but caregivers as well.

Kristin’s presentation explained the research and theory behind self-compassion, as she described it as “treating ourselves kindly, as we would a good friend we cared about.” With the goal of moving away from the self-imposed judging and criticizing we put ourselves through, self-compassion seeks optimism and satisfaction with life through understanding human imperfection.

“I felt that the idea of self-compassion is particularly relevant both to burn survivors,” she explained during an interview with the Phoenix Society. “Self-compassion involves embracing one’s own experiences of suffering with kindness, concern, and active self-soothing.

“It also frames one’s own experience in light of the shared human experience.  Although people suffer to different degrees in their lives, everyone experiences suffering, and remembering this fact can help people feel less isolated by their life circumstances.”

Understanding the physical and emotional pain associated with being a burn survivor, Neff put an emphasis on the comfort and compassion, saying that while it’s necessary to move forward, it’s also important to provide oneself with “kindness, patience, and validation” to help deal with the experience.

Self-compassion has even been shown to help deal with chronic pain.

“Burn survivors often feel reduced self-esteem if their appearance is impaired or they feel rejected by others,” she explained. “Self-compassion is not contingent on appearance the way that self-esteem usually is, and doesn’t depend on social approval.”

Neff knows this first-hand the benefits of self-compassion to caregivers, and how it helps to alleviate compassion fatigue. She was featured as the mother in the award-winning documentary The Horse Boy, chronicling her family’s experience with autism. Said Neff, “My practice of self-compassion got me through.”

“Caregivers often experience empathetic distress when working with people experiencing intense suffering.  When caregivers give themselves compassion and validate their own struggles when caring for those who have severe life difficulties, it allows them to stay in the presence of suffering without being overwhelmed or getting burned out.”

Considered a “pioneer” in self-compassion, Neff is also an Associated Professor of Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas, and even released a book on the topic in 2011, titled Self-Compassion.

The Phoenix Society’s World Burn Congress is an annual conference involving burn survivors, health care professionals, firefighters, and anyone affected by a burn injury. The Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors is the only national nonprofit that provides the tools and resources to help burn survivors get back to living.

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