How much Self -Compassion do I have? What is Self -Compassion anyway? How do I know if I am being self compassionate? What’s the criteria? And, is it really that important? These are the questions I have been living with over the past few months. I have emerged with a resounding, “YES” to the importance of Self -Compassion and a renewed impetus to practice it more often.
Simply put, Self -Compassion is Self-Kindness. It is relating to ourselves with kindness and care as we move through the struggles and stresses of life. One would think that would be an easy thing to do, but it turns out for many it is something rather foreign and befuddling. It seems that self- judgement and self- criticism are what tends to rule the day. We are much more practiced in and familiar with berating ourselves.
As a matter of fact- the kind of things we say to ourselves when we make a mistake, or are struggling with a project, are late for an important meeting, don’t get a call back from an interview or any other of a number of human experiences, tend to be words that are pretty far from kind.They actually are self- deprecating and sometimes downright mean. We often say things to and about ourselves that we would never in a million years say to a friend or loved one; we might not even say them to someone we don’t like. But we say them to ourselves.
“ What a loser!” “ How could you be so stupid?” “ You can’t do anything right” “ No one is ever going to love you!” “You’re not _______ enough “ (to be filled in with an endless stream of adjectives.) In response to an empathic friends reassuring,”You did your best”, the self critic immediately retorts emphatically,“ It wasn’t good enough!”
Why do we beat ourselves up so unmercifully? If our harsh words were externalized as blows to the body, we would be covered with bruises and be horrified. But these assaults are internal and the bruises can’t readily be seen (although they are certainly felt) and so we are not so horrified. They have become common place and unquestioned, but they damage our sense of Self. Self-berating actually destroys our inner resources, and depletes our vitality. It is a clear path to depression and despair.
So-What gets in the way of being caring and compassionate with ourselves? We actually are more caring and empathic with others than we are to ourselves.
Give yourself a moment here and ask yourself this question for YOU.
What gets in my way of being kind to myself?
Here are a few ideas that may shed some light on that question.
There was no model for treating ourselves in this manner. We didn’t see it or experience it as a child. Lessons of childhood are critical, they go in deep and take root. A household filled with criticism, neglect or abuse does not teach us how to have compassion. A child needs an experience or a model for compassion and care. They would need to have been nurtured with encouragement, explanation and emotional support and allowed to experience the full range of their feelings in safety and acceptance.
Humans are inherently compassionate, but there are pressures and forces which distort that natural tendency.
A perfectionistic sense of self is a powerful obstacle to self- compassion. When we expect ourselves to perform at the very highest level at all times or when we strive to live up to impossible standards and expectations, there is no room for self- acceptance and humility.
Instead of being compassionate we are disapproving and judgmental about our flaws and inadequacies.
When times are really difficult, we get tough on ourselves. Some try to use self- criticism as a motivator, but research has found that it actually undermines us. When we criticize ourselves, we activate our nervous system’s threat defense mechanism. Our fight /flight response is engaged and if the stress increases we actually shut down in depression.
The perfectionist allows no weakness and is a bit cold-hearted towards themselves when experiencing suffering rather than being loving and soothing the emotional pain.This creates isolation and disconnection.
In order to shift how we relate to ourselves, we must begin a humanizing process and accept that no one is or can be perfect. As human beings we are all flawed and we all struggle. We must, therefore, begin the task of embracing our imperfections. Its time to stop judging and evaluating ourselves and time to recognize our common humanity. This will allow us to feel connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. It means being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we feel pain, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or beating ourselves with self-criticism.
We offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Let us grant ourselves the same response.
Let us find the spaciousness in ourselves that allows a quality of kindness and gentleness to emerge when approaching ourselves. Instead of our usual tendency to want to get over something, to fix it, to make it go away, let us find the path of acceptance and self-empathy.
Our wounded places do not need admonishment, rather they need love and care.
The practice of self-empathy involves being present with yourself and turning your attention inward by asking yourself:
What am I noticing in my body?
What am I feeling?
What am I needing ?
Self – Compassion allows a state of grace to be established with our selves and is essential for deep healing. Compassion is a prerequisite for a state of well being to occur. It makes it possible to feel good- to feel joy. This joy comes from the healthiest part of ourselves and engenders our full aliveness. It all begins with you and self- compassion.
Let’s make March the beginning of a new way of being with ourselves! Let’s say and Live the mantra: I treat myself with loving-kindness and self- compassion.