"A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day.
A string of such moments can change the course of your life."
~ Christopher Germer
Most of us understand the meaning of compassion, its importance in the world, and how to give it. But, self-compassion is less understood, treated as less-important, and very seldom used.
Compassion is about kindness, empathy, and a desire to relieve pain. When we feel compassion toward someone, we want our words to be gentle and caring, with understanding about their situation. We create a safe space for the person to feel heard.
Self-compassion acts very much in the same way. Kristin Neff, Ph.D., and author of the book, Self-Compassion, The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, writes,
"Self-compassion creates a caring space within you that is free of judgment—a place that sees your hurt and your failures and softens to allow those experiences with kindness and caring."
Feeling compassion and empathy towards my family and friends when they are suffering is quite natural to me. I want to ease their pain while trying to understand their circumstance. Speaking words filled with kindness and caring, I hope to soften their hurts or feelings of failure. My desire is to love them where they are and help them to not feel alone in their situation. Unfortunately, I haven't shown myself the same love and understanding.
I have struggled with self-compassion for as long as I can remember, and I'm probably not alone in my struggle.
First of all, self-compassion seems like I'm indulging in self-pity. I should "buck up" and quit acting like a victim - not sitting there feeling sorry for myself! Or, if I'm not criticizing myself regarding something, how will I stay motivated? Plus, it often feels selfish to feel compassion towards myself. These unhealthy attitudes towards self-compassion have caused me years of pain, suffering, and confusion.
Whether you struggle with one or all of these feelings, it is time to realize that we are victims of our own wrong-thinking!
Neff's book helps uncover the myths about self-compassion. What it is, what it isn't, and ideas that can help create true self-compassion.
My personal belief that self-compassion breeds self-indulgence, laziness, and selfishness, has caused me years of unnecessary pain. I have punished myself with self-loathing, or simply denied any hurt that I was feeling.
Neff explains that "self-compassion is about becoming aware of and sitting with your pain, where self-indulgence numbs and denies your pain." Instead of sitting with my hurt or failure, I've perpetuated the pain by denying that it exists.
The author also dispels the thinking that self-criticizing is motivational. Although we may truly believe that our inner critic is needed to keep us motivated in our life, Neff states, "Being compassionate with ourselves allows for a much healthier, kinder motivation." She goes on to say, "While the motivational power of self-criticism comes from fear of self-punishment, the motivational power of self-compassion comes from the desire to be healthy, to reduce our suffering."
When it comes to feeling selfish about self-compassion, I'm truly a pro! Like many women, I feel the need to put others ahead of myself – no matter what is going on with me. I will meet their request and put mine needs aside for later, or not at all. But Neff says, "The source of our compassion will only be more authentic when we are able to show compassion to ourselves first." This was a needed revelation for me.
The importance of self-compassion
can change our lives.
Showing ourselves the same love and kindness that we give to others is the beginning of that change.
Neff goes on to say, " the best way to think about being kind to your self is to think about a friend." What words do you speak to your dear friend when she is in need of support? You probably don't use the same words that you speak to yourself in front of the mirror, when no one is listening. It's time to stop wounding ourselves and be the friend to ourselves that we are to others.
Remember to embrace who you are in the world. Neff speaks about the feelings of isolation that can occur when you judge and criticize yourself. She states, "We all suffer. And so we are all connected by our shared humanity. We are able to feel connected when we acknowledge our hurts, our failures, and our imperfections.
So, the next time you feel like judging and criticizing yourself for various shortcomings or failures, try something new: Be kind and gentle with yourself; create a safe space inside yourself so you can rest; plus, spend the necessary time to gain a better understanding of your situation. Remember, you are your friend, the friend who is always with you, and who will never leave you! That is a person worthy of love and kindness.
"If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete."
~ Jack Kornfield