You’ve gone and done it again.  And following your blunder you are hearing that little voice inside telling you how everyone else is better than you, or how you repeatedly can’t seem to get the hang of life, and how unworthy you are of forgiveness, or greatness, or happiness, or acceptance.  No wonder you are alone, or have issues with others, or feel so misunderstood.  I like to think we do not take ourselves to these extremes with every perceived misstep, but I’m confident we have all heard versions of these thoughts at some point along our journey. I did a beautiful reading this week in my Mindfulness and Psychotherapy graduate course that I wanted to share the highlights of. The readings key concept revolved around self-compassion; what it is, and what it is not, and why it is such a crucial aspect of self-development, and overall fulfillment.

To begin, let’s look at their use of the term compassion.  “When we experience compassion, we notice, and are moved, by the suffering of others… It entails feelings of kindness, care, and understanding for people who are in pain, so that the desire to ameliorate suffering naturally emerges.  Finally, compassion involves recognizing the shared human condition, fragile and imperfect as it is.  Self-compassion has exactly the same qualities- it’s just compassion turned  inward.”

“Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding towards ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.”  How are you at self-compassion?  Do you feel like it is your natural state of being, following a perceived failure?  Does it matter how grand or small the perceived failure is?  Does it matter if it’s an area you feel you should be better at due to time invested, or education, or the profile of the environment?  What impacts your ability to be self-compassionate?

In my conversations with following this reading, it seems feeling like we deserve to offer ourselves compassion is a large part of the equation.  Feeling like we deserve a kind word to ourselves, or a moment of empathy.  For some, it seems, they believe that offering yourself self-compassion is like giving a sucker and a blanket to a small child to simply appease them.  What about you?  Do you deserve self-compassion?  Do you deserve it in every situation?  If you are asking me, my answer is a resounding ‘yes!’  Here’s why:  When has beating yourself ever led to your healing or grown your self-love, or your love for others or the world?  When has telling yourself you don’t deserve happiness ever served to motivate you towards a happier life?  

“One of the biggest problems with harsh self-judgment is that it tends to make us feel isolated.  When we notice something about ourselves that we don’t like, we irrationally feel like everyone else is perfect and it’s only us who is inadequate.  This isn’t a logical process, but a kind of distorted self-centeredness: focusing on our inadequacies give us tunnel vision so that we can’t see anything but our own feeble, worthless self… Self-compassion recognizes that life challenges and personal failures are part of being human, an experience we all share.  In this way, it helps us feel less desolate and isolated when we are in pain.”

So, how can we cultivate self-compassion?  Perhaps start by cultivating it for others.  When you witness an injustice, or a situation that you imagine would be difficult to endure, allow yourself to feel into it.  Allow yourself to hold an open-heart of kindness and gentleness for those suffering.  And, while I understand that it can be harder for some to turn that light inward, imagine how it would feel to hold the love of yourself when it feels removed from life around you.  When you are suffering, and feeling isolated; how powerful would it be to stand in your own corner?  To see yourself for more of the whole of who you actually are beyond your moment of misdoing.  What if you could hold compassion for your difficulty in feeling self-compassion?  

Self-compassion doesn’t mean we are not responsible for our actions, or that we are above consequences.  It’s not a free pass to avoid taking that long and hard internal look at what you need to cultivate and nourish within yourself.  But, the more we can allow ourselves to recognize how similar we all are, the more we are also cultivating that sense of connection to the whole of life.  So, the next time you commit a blunder, ask yourself if you’re the first person in history to ever do so.  And when you realize that you are likely not, offer yourself a little self-compassion.

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