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Brookhaven Retreat Blog - For inspiration, growth & a fresh perspective.

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Self-compassion

Tuesday, 24 March 2015 00:00  by Erin L.

Having compassion for oneself is important. As human beings, we all share the common bond of human error. We all make mistakes. It’s part of how we learn. However, mistakes can be costly. Having compassion for oneself is similar to having compassion for others. To have compassion for others you must first be aware of their suffering. Compassion also involves feeling moved by that person’s suffering so that you respond to their pain. This requires being capable and willing to feel that suffering. The word compassion literally means to “suffer with” and that requires you to join that person on some level. Contrary to the beliefs of some, the point of this process is not to feel helpless in the face of emotional pain. Instead, compassion allows us to feel empowered by warmth and caring, the desire to help another in some way, because it brings people together with the kindness and understanding that can glue us together in safety as humans. When you are able to do this for a person who feels that they’ve failed or made a mistake they are welcomed and repaired in contrast to the feeling of being outcast from your family or community that comes from being judged harshly. Shame and fear very often are at the root of violence. When people are able to come together through compassion, though, rather than via pity or isolation, they are able to come together knowing that suffering, failure, and imperfection are simply a part of the shared human experience.

Self-compassion allows us to be gentle with ourselves. It involves treating yourself with the same love and respect that you would offer others in your place. When you are having a rough time, wrestling with feelings of failure, or become frustrated with any aspect of yourself that you don’t like, you have the option of practicing self-care instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for you inadequacies or shortcomings. Self-compassion means being kind to your self while being aware that no one is perfect. You try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy because you care about yourself, not because you believe that you are worthless or unacceptable as you are. Most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness in the same way you know you must accept the same of others. If you stop and listen to the way you talk to yourself, ask yourself this question: If I were to talk to another person that way, would it be okay? Often, the negative self-talk that goes on in our minds could be considered abusive if we were to replace the “I am” with “you are”. If you wouldn’t speak to someone else like that, it might be a good idea to ask yourself why you think it is okay to talk to yourself like that.

Things will not always be the way you want them to be. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of resisting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion as you experience life. Now that we’ve defined self-compassion, perhaps it is important to also recognize what it is not. How is having compassion for oneself different from self-pity? Self-pity is being immersed in one’s own problems and not being conscious of the fact that other people may have similar problems. It is forgetting about your interconnectedness with others and becoming absorbed in the idea that you are the only person in the world who is in the midst of suffering. Self-pity tends to emphasize egocentric feelings of alienation. Self-compassion, on the other hand, allows one to see the correlating experiences of self and other without such feelings of isolation and disconnection. Also, individuals lost in self-pity often become carried away with and get pulled under by their own emotional drama. It becomes harder to step back from being subjective or to adopt a more balanced perspective. In contrast, by taking the perspective of a compassionate other towards oneself, "mental space" is provided to recognize the broader human context of one’s experience and to put things in greater perspective. (“Yes it is very difficult what I’m going through right now, but there are many other people who are experiencing much greater suffering. Perhaps this isn’t worth getting quite so upset about...")

Self-compassion is also different from being self-indulgent. Some people might say that they are reluctant to be forgiving of their faults or suffering because they’re afraid they would let themselves get away with anything if they did not punish themselves for their perceived crimes. This is not self-compassion. Being compassionate to one self is about seeking out a happy and healthy state of mind in the long term. It is possible that giving oneself short-term pleasure may harm wellbeing in the long run. Giving yourself health and lasting happiness involves some level of delaying gratification and patient willpower as you work towards your goals. Shaming oneself into action is counterproductive. That approach often backfires if you can’t face the hard truths about yourself because you are too afraid of hating yourself if you do. As a result, weaknesses will remain unacknowledged in an unconscious attempt to avoid self-censure. In contrast, the care intrinsic to compassion provides a powerful motivating force for growth and change, while also providing the safety needed to see the self clearly without fear of self-condemnation.

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