We have all heard about the importance of cultivating compassion for others (“Do to others as you would have them do to you”), but what about self-compassion? Compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. Self-compassion is turning that lens toward oneself (rather than minimizing one’s pain or ignoring it completely). With self-compassion, we acknowledge what we are experiencing, without judgment, so that we can learn how to care for ourselves amidst hardship.
I would like to mention that piece about not judging again. For most of us, this initial part can be really hard. We often feel justified in making judgments in line with what we believe to be “right.” (Thus, if we “should” be able to complete all of the tasks on our daily task list, we feel justified in deeming ourselves a “failure” or “lazy.”) This is not very helpful. Conversely, it can cause more harm and prevent us from navigating the situation fruitfully. Once we let that judger loose, we begin to feel shame, embarrassment, resentment, and anger toward ourselves. These are not only unhealthy “motivators,” but they often shut us down and/or create additional unhealthy coping. Mentally kicking ourselves, when we are already down, is not an appropriate way to attempt to motivate ourselves. When we are practicing self-compassion, we come from a place of love, not judgment.
Also, if you are worried that self-compassion is synonymous with self-indulgence (or selfishness), no need to worry. They are not the same thing. Self-compassion is not about pitying oneself and forgetting that others are also struggling. Self-compassion is not about “doing whatever we want” independent of consequences (that is not compassionate of the self at all). Self-compassion is not about hurting others. Instead, self-compassion is about allowing ourselves to acknowledge what we are experiencing, in any given situation, and caring. (*This, in turn, allows us to better understand how to navigate the situation while still caring for ourselves.)
If we believe “do to others as you would have them do to you,” we need to stop mentally kicking ourselves when we are down. Otherwise, we are kicking our neighbors while they are down as well. Let’s, instead, treat ourselves (and our neighbors) with compassion, kindness and love.
You may want to try some self-compassion meditations and exercises by self-compassion expert Kristin Neff, PhD: http://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/
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