What is Compassion Anyway?
First off: what is compassion? And how is it different to everyday kindness or love? I think about it like this: compassion is the recognition of suffering. Without suffering, there is no compassion. When we see a friend going through a hard time, we notice feelings of care, love, worry and kindness come up in response. This is compassion.
Why do I not show Myself More Self-Compassion?
Good question. It’s strange isn’t it? Nearly all of us in the Western world don’t seem to struggle with showing compassion to others, but when it comes to ourselves, we really struggle. If you are unsure, you can play a little game: “one rule for them, another for me”. In this game, you ask yourself questions like: “If I burnt the dinner, what would I say to myself?”; “If I backed into a lamppost, how would I treat myself?” …and then ask yourself what you would say to a friend who did the same thing. Usually, the answer is that we treat ourselves mercilessly in comparison to our friends.
I think there are many reasons why we don’t show ourselves self-compassion, but top of the list has to be that we are trained from birth in this culture to care for others, and not ourselves. To care for ourselves is often labelled ‘selfish’, ‘self indulgent’, etc. Sometimes, it can feel wrong to even accept a compliment, a gift, or to take time out for ourselves. We also struggle to notice how we suffer. We are constantly given messages like: “Think Positive!”, or “Keep Calm and Carry On!”. These may get us through a tough situation in the short term, but in the longer term, we may need to unpack our kit-bag, and take time to recognise how we struggle.
‘Why would I do that?!’ You may ask. My answer is that if we don’t know how we struggle, how can we properly care for ourselves? This is about self-care people 😉 … and I would argue that it is impossible to show true compassion to someone else unless we are also able to show self-compassion to ourselves first.
So how can I Show Myself more Self-Compassion?
Compassion is a muscle that needs to be built. It won’t happen on it’s own. We need to take time out to notice ourselves and notice how we are feeling. Crying is the physical act of compassion. It is a good way to start: open to the grief, sadness and tears that sit within us all from time to time. Take time out to express this. Even better, express it in front of a trusted friend or counsellor.
Kristin Neff is a world-leading researcher into compassion. She has many suggestions of ways that you can build self-compassion on her fabulous website. Below is a “Compassionate Friend Meditation” inspired by a similar one created by her. It helps because you are coming in touch with the part of yourself who cares about you: reconnecting with your self-compassion. You can revisit your compassionate friend any time you wish: ask them for advice in tricky situations. Enjoy!
If you would like to get some one to one help with building compassion, why not try counselling? Alternatively, you could join one of our mindfulness courses. Click on the links below to find out more!