We all evaluate ourselves. It’s a ceaseless stream of judgment and comparison.
I didn’t handle that as well as I should have.
Look at how much she gets done – the blog, the kids, the exercise – I am just a slacker.
He is so cheerful – even when I know he’s in pain. Why can’t I be as brave and strong?
Over and over we have our practiced ways of undercutting confidence, making ourselves feel small, and destroying our serenity. Our self-criticism stokes our misery and saps energy.
Yet, many of us hold a belief that if we are compassionate towards ourselves, we will become less motivated to do the things we should, and more lazy and complacent. We will stop striving and stop achieving. (Of course, this might not be a bad thing!)
Dr. Kristen Neff, a psychology researcher and pioneer in the self-compassion movement, says no. Self-compassion leads to a happier and more satisfied life, where we are more motivated to accomplish what matters to us in life because someone cares. That someone is you.
She defines self–compassion as “Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others. Think about what the experience of compassion feels like. First, to have compassion for others you must notice that they are suffering. If you ignore that homeless person on the street, you can’t feel compassion for how difficult his or her experience is. Second, compassion involves feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to “suffer with”). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience. “There but for fortune go I.”
Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself.” (from What Is Mindful Self Compassion)
So the first step is to admit you are suffering. To notice your own suffering, and not override it, or suppress it. That is a big enough task for most of us who were taught “not to whine” or not to admit to our pain in any way.
We notice. We witness to ourselves and allow what is there.
We treat ourselves as we would treat a beloved friend.
The second step is to “suffer with.” To allow our hearts to warm with kindness. In this step we are gentle. We don’t push away or push back against whatever the emotions are. We may feel sad, or loss. We may feel angry. We may have a righteous indignation. In whatever place we find ourselves, we soften and allow whatever we are feeling without judging it.
Finally for the third step, we give ourselves some distance to see that everyone suffers. It is part of being human. We all go through loss and pain. Our suffering is uniquely ours, but suffering is not unique.
After the recent fires in CA, I saw a couple being interviewed on television. Standing in the wreckage of a home they had chosen and designed and built with their life savings, where only a week before they had celebrated their daughter’s wedding, the husband shook his head. “So many people have lost so much more than we have. We are blessed to have had so much and to have each other.” He knew that everyone suffers. In that way we carve a deep space in our being and in our lives to be fully human, and to hold our deep connection to one another.
Self-compassion is not easy or some psychobabble feel good. The practice is a deep part of being mindful about who you are and where you are, and extending the power of compassionate and non-judgmental regard to ourselves, as we also wish to extend it to others.
Begin this week by noticing your habitual thoughts about yourself, and letting them go. Think of yourself as a beloved friend who needs your support and caring.
As always, let me know what touches you and what happens when you practice!