Self-compassion

I look at self-compassion as different from the hippie-type statements that abound telling you to love yourself and going so far as to say if you can’t love yourself you’ll never be able to love anyone else. People who have a dreaded fear of being arrogant, who self-punish for errors or who believe they’re not good enough are going to be immune to the self-love rhetoric.

The way I find to translate self-compassion to someone for whom it is a foreign concept is to demonstrate that he/she already has some, even if it’s rudimentary. I start by asking the individual to describe his/her characteristics that he/she values. Then we talk about the fact that maintaining a personality with desirable features in it means they must have told themselves they were doing something right. And they were probably good and kind to themselves when they evidenced these characteristics. That’s the beginning of self-compassion.

Basically, the world is a hard, cold place if there’s little empathy, kindness and care in it. Someone with little self-compassion is creating a hostile environment for him/herself, which tends to be very hard on him/her and brings out the worst in him/her. The biggest culprit for this kind of emotional starvation is self-criticism which is aimed at self-punishment and self-control. It tends to backfire because it results in living your life intimately tied to your past and the low points of it. You can easily end up repeating your mistakes this way.

It tends to show when someone has poor self-compassion. The individual may come across as tightly wound, typically aiming for less than he/she deserves, feeling low or hopeless. You’ll hear one friend saying to another ‘You need to stop beating yourself up.’ It can happen that a person lacking kindness and care for him/herself also broods and harbors resentment towards others. The theme may be that he/she doesn’t know why he/she doesn’t deserve better treatment than that.

What’s best for the self and for relationships is an acknowledgment of mistakes or problems, being in touch with the emotions that go with them. Then, doing what you need to do to resolve the issue, get past it and move forward. Your self-compassion is invaluable in this because it increases your emotional resilience and problem-solving ability.

My most successful strategy to cultivate self-compassion is telling people that it simply doesn’t make sense not to have it. Without it they have a false negative view of themselves and possibly of others. I don’t advocate false positives either. I recommend neutral or fact-based views of themselves that include a rationale for kindness and care towards themselves.

I also ask what would happen if someone gave them a pill loaded with self-compassion; what would be the instant effect of that? Usually the answer is that they are unburdened and can move forward, feeling good.

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