Resilience, narrative and common humanity in self-care

This blog has generously been contributed by my colleague in the School of Health and Social Care at the University of Essex, Ness Woodcock-Dennis. Thanks Ness!

I have just returned from International Health and Wellbeing week at Turku University of applied sciences in Finland after giving a workshop to Finnish nursing students based on the theme of health promotion. My clinical experience delivering health promotion as a public health nurse taught me that as professional care givers, nurses are poor at self-care and promoting their own health.

Nursing literature considers this from the viewpoint of how resilience can serve the service and service users; but what does resilience mean to the individual? To understand this, an individual must first understand their own vulnerabilities, and to acquire an authentic understanding of this, must be able and motivated in understanding their own inner curriculum, which Ergas (2016) attributes to factors such as how we are influenced by our worries, bodily sensations and our ability to interact and respond to the world.

Narrative is widely used in nursing as the patient story is intrinsic to care, just as listening skills are if these stories are to be interpreted and accurately understood as a means of utilising a genuine person-centred approach. As educators we understand the importance of role modelling professional behaviours and compassion, but what about role modelling self-care?

The use of narrative in the classroom is a powerful tool for developing compassionate nursing practice and a staple of contemplative pedagogy, enabling students to realise their own proximity to a greater narrative through understanding their own story (Barbezat & Bush 2014). This interplay is the common humanity described by Neff (2003), and is the interconnection between things central in Buddhist ethics; it is also the kinship that is fragmented and missing from caring relationships between nurses (Ballat & Campling 2015). I think it is the glue that holds the wider concepts of compassion together.

When I was asked to speak to the Finnish students about health promotion, I reflected on the importance of narrative, even more so on how important it is to listen to our own, particularly if we are to understand the barriers to communication and care imposed by ourselves when we are overwhelmed. My own experience of burn-out as a clinician has enabled me to create a narrative which demonstrates my experience of vulnerability in an authentic way.

Communicating beyond ourselves and our immediate audiences is essential if we are to strengthen our sense of common humanity. Sharing my experiences enabled me to connect with others on a deeper level which was energising and humbling. Despite differences in health infrastructure and culture, common humanity was found through sharing my narrative. By telling my story, colleagues were motivated to approach me and share their experiences, enabling common humanity that I believe was cultivated by having the courage to be authentic and accept my vulnerabilities as a clinician and human being.


Ballatt J & Campling P (2015) Intelligent Kindness: reforming the culture of healthcare, RPsych Publications

Barbezat D & Bush B (2014) Contemplative Practices in Higher Education, Jossey-Bass: San Francisco

Ergas O (2016) Reconstructing Education through Mindful Attention: Positioning the mind at the centre of curriculum and pedagogy, Palgrave Macmillan: London

Neff K (2003) Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualisation of a healthy attitude toward oneself, Self and Identity, 2, p85-101

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s