Today, I’m pleased to present my interview with Karen Horneffer-Ginter, Ph.D, a psychologist and author of the book Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit: Nourishing the Soul When Life’s Just Too Much

Below, Karen shares her insight into practicing self-care and overcoming obstacles to self-care, accepting ourselves and feeling difficult emotions.

Q: One of my goals with Weightless is to help readers accept themselves as they are in this very moment. Can you share several ways readers can do that?

A: Great question!  When I think about accepting ourselves in this very moment I’m reminded of a quote by Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron— it’s something like: We’re all perfect just as we are, and we can all use some improvement.

I love the lightness of her words and how they suggest a balanced stance we can take in which we move toward accepting where we’re at and recognizing that we can only start where we are.

At the same time, it’s okay to see that there are things we want to work on. Sometimes, I think we make a bigger deal than we need to in noticing a gap between where we’re at and where we’d like to be, as opposed to simply noticing this and still loving ourselves fully right here and right now.

I think it’s fair to say that most of us are doing the best we can, and if we can lighten up on ourselves and give ourselves credit for the self-care efforts we’re making, this can go a long way in helping us feel a sense of self-acceptance and making the journey toward self-improvement more enjoyable.

Q: Your work focuses on helping clients and readers take more compassionate care of ourselves. What reasons do people give about why they don’t take better care of themselves? (In other words, what seems to stand in their way?)

A: The biggest obstacles I see are various forms of “extreme” thinking.  Maybe we’re holding an “all or none” approach to eating and exercise and feel that if we can’t sustain a certain standard of effort, it’s not worth making any effort at all.

Maybe, too, there’s a harshness in how we’re judging ourselves and so it becomes painful to come anywhere near self-care because it triggers our self-loathing.

Sometimes, I also see people holding an “either/or” mindset—that if they are going to fully show up for their work or their parenting, there can’t be any room for focusing on oneself.

Q: How can people overcome those obstacles to take better care of themselves?

A: With all of these mindsets, I think it helps to first see what we’re doing and to encourage ourselves to find a more balanced viewpoint.

Sometimes, we humans have an easier time holding extreme perspectives—or we’re used to this because we see it in the culture around us—but if we step back and look at the situation, it’s actually not that difficult to change these beliefs.

It can help to sit down and reflect on how we’re approaching our self-care and to ask ourselves, “If I brought the best of my intelligence, wisdom, and life experience to taking care of myself, how might I change the way I’m doing things?  What advice would I give to someone I deeply care about, if they were in my situation?”

Q: You also work with individuals on embracing difficult emotions. Can you share several tips on healthy ways to deal with distressing emotions?

A: Ironically, I think sometimes we don’t feel our difficult emotions fully enough. We push them away, hoping they’ll go away, but often they don’t and then there’s an added layer of tension we’ve created.

I’ll refer to Pema Chodron again because I think her teachings on tonglen meditation, a practice in which painful emotions can be used as the focus of meditation, is very valuable.

One of the encouragements in the practice is to be present with the sensations connected to the challenging emotion on the in-breath, and to tap into the opposite feeling (something more calm and spacious) on the out-breath.

I really appreciate how this instruction encourages a sense of balance—it reminds us that along with fully feeling our feelings, we also need to lift up out of our difficulty and connect with something larger than this, possibly by taking a walk out in nature or by connecting with other people.

Thanks so much to Karen for speaking with me!

What would you like to know about self-care or overcoming obstacles to self-care? Anything you’d like to know about feeling your feelings?