Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.
—Audre Lorde, Author and Activist
Traditional gender roles restrict the ability of women and men to express the full range of who they are, at great cost both on a personal and societal level. These legacies of patriarchy are embedded in our systems and live on in each of us. While these internalized roles and expectations are harmful for all of us, they have created a power imbalance to the disadvantage of women that is still alive to this day. Women are allowed to be soft, nurturing, and tender. For men, fierceness - angry, forceful and assertive behavior - is expected and rewarded with an increase of perceived competency. Yet when those same qualities are expressed by a woman, she is perceived as too emotional and judged as less competent.
Fear of this backlash leads many women to suppress their fierce side in order to gain social approval. The delegitimization and suppression of inherent powerful emotions like anger prevent women from effectively protecting themselves and driving change. And it harms our mental health. One of the reasons for this is that individuals in subordinate positions have to be more vigilant against danger, leading women to rely on self-criticism as a way to feel safe (a stress response directed inward).
Self-compassion directly counteracts this stress-response. It allows us to nurture ourselves and empowers us to respond instead of react habitually. This is why self-compassion is so paramount in the fight for justice.
Fierce self-compassion means to stand up for our rights and needs, strengthen our sense of agency and autonomy and set boundaries to protect us. It can help us to counter the harm done by centuries of being told to keep quiet and look pretty.
Now, this is not a call to flip the script and start dominating men. Real gender equality demands that we integrate both tender and fierce qualities within all of us. It is also a highly intersectional matter. Compassion is rooted in the motivation to alleviate the suffering caused by all injustice.
While tender self-compassion uses nurturing to alleviate suffering, fierce self-compassion harnesses the energy of action to alleviate suffering —when these are fully integrated, they manifest as caring force.
The more we train it, the more we are able to access this caring force and build new habits to respond to pain with compassion.
So how does it work?
The three components of self-compassion
The self-compassion researcher Dr. Kristin Neff identified three components of self-compassion:
- Recognizing that this is a moment of suffering without getting lost in it (mindfulness)
- Remembering that we are not the only one feeling this pain (common humanity)
- Offering ourselves kindness, eg. kind words or a supportive touch, eg. placing your hand gently on your heart, that will sooth the nervous system (self-kindness).
You can do this practice in real-time or to bring healing to a difficult situation in the past.
If you feel called to develop your fierce side, we invite you to join our our 4-part workshop Fierce Self-Compassion For Women, where we explore and practice the integration of fierce self-compassion that can be used in key areas of your life like relationships, caregiving, and work. We will share information, tools and practices to step boldly into our full selves, embracing both our fierce and tender, kind and powerful qualities. The workshop will begin on the 5th of September, 2022 and will run for 4 weeks. For more information please click here.