Self-compassion is a powerful antidote to difficult emotions such as anxiety and shame. It is a portable form of therapy that can be applied anywhere.
Many people think of self-compassion as a weak trait and shun it in their effort to act tough. And yet, self-compassion is hugely important to help us learn and grow.
It allows us to become more resilient because we accept the inherent possibility of both failure and success in all areas of life, instead of resisting it. Through the lens of self-compassion, we recognize that both failure and success are part of the process of life. Instead of hardening our stance in the face of setbacks, this recognition helps us to accept ourselves and our best effort as good enough in each moment. Even when we fail, self-compassion gives us the courage to try again.
The aspect of ourselves that judges, blames or shames ourselves or others, will be the slowest in evolving. Our least evolved parts are usually stuck in basic survival instincts, including excessive self-criticism, fear, hatred and shame.
By healing this within us, we are able to fully evolve.
Whenever we feel threatened by something outside ourselves, we automatically revert back to the primal fight/freeze/flight response for protection and safety. We lash out, self-isolate or avoid confrontation instead of learning how to effectively deal with challenges.
When danger is experienced on the inside, we go a step further: we internalize the fight/freeze/flight response and instead judge, blame or abandon ourselves. We devolve toward self-criticism, isolation and stuckness – the unholy trinity of woundedness.
A good case in point is the anxiety that many people experience around public speaking. According to psychologist and mindfulness practitioner Dr. Chris Germer, a public speaking anxiety is not an anxiety disorder; it is a shame disorder. At the root of the anxiety that causes us to fear failure or to choke up, lies deep shame.
When we internalize our shame, we create anxiety.
Self-compassion dissolves this excessive shame and self-criticism to bring balance thru self-love. In essence, the practice of self-compassion allows us to hold ourselves in the midst of shame, acknowledging that we are all imperfect beings and embracing ourselves nonetheless.
Many of us extend compassion toward others, yet have difficulty in holding compassion toward ourselves. We can be compassionate to others because we don’t feel immediately threatened by their challenges.
And yet, healthy self-compassion is a necessary prerequisite to master before we can offer true compassion to others.
Why is it so difficult for us to develop self-compassion?
Self-compassion is not our first response at the instinctual level of survival; it is a skill we need to develop from a spiritual perspective if we wish to break free from living at basic levels of survival and evolve into our fullest potential. Old conditioning of self-judgment, unworthiness and shame also make it difficult for us to practice self-compassion and block our growth. To continue evolving, it becomes essential for us to address these emotions.
Self-compassion can be seen as a melting of the heart in the face of difficulty – stepping out of judgment and into compassion devoid of judgment for ourselves or others. It allows the lower, denser emotions to dissolve in the higher frequencies of compassion and love.
When the heart starts to soften around an issue, we will re-experience some of the same emotions previously triggered by conditions: shame, guilt, pain, grief, disappointment and more. And yet, as we learn how to hold that space of compassion for ourselves, we become strong enough to hold our pain as well. By becoming present and acknowledging these buried emotions, they can finally dissolve so we can let go of woundedness in our lives.
Self-compassion gives us the capacity to hold ourselves in love while we process old pain differently and resolve it, instead of staying stuck in a dysfunctional coping mechanism. This practice allows us to become stronger and more resilient, and we grow in grace.
Even as life continues to offer us emotional triggers, our growing ability for self-compassion and understanding empowers us to hold that safe space of compassion for ourselves. It allows us to see ourselves as a work in process, holding our struggles and the messiness of our lives in compassion. I believe this is what pioneering psychologist Carl Rogers meant when he said: “When I accept myself just as I am, I can begin to change.”
Self-compassion becomes easier with practice. It develops our ability to extend compassion and forgiveness to all forms of life, and to offer more life-expanding love to others. Ultimately, it connects us intimately to the abundantly rich wellspring life.
Self-compassion is not self-indulgence; it means treating ourselves with the same care, love and support we would give another.
This inner stance allows us to ask ourselves what we need and then giving that to ourselves. It allows us to recognize that all people are imperfect – including us – and to admit that in ourselves at the very moment we feel we’re failing. It gives us the grace to accept what is instead of getting stuck in resistance and denial.
At the core of self-compassion lies mindfulness – observing things as they happen and being willing to stay present with difficult emotions. Mindfulness is a wonderful practice because it teaches us how to step out of the drama and practice compassion toward ourselves and all sentient beings.
Lasting transformation comes not from just understanding the process of self-compassion, but putting it into practice as a personal way of living.
Here are a few guidelines to help you live from a place of self-compassion:
- When you find yourself failing or suffering, bring mindfulness to it – acknowledge that you are struggling to validate yourself.
- Remind yourself of the common humanity of the situation – this is not just you; it is part of all of life. Struggle is a part of life.
- Speak some words of kindness to yourself; comfort yourself and give yourself the encouragement that you would give your best friend.
- Cultivate the habit of practicing lovingkindness to yourself and all sentient beings in all circumstances – especially the challenging ones! An excellent place to start is with the Buddhist Lovingkindness prayer, one version of which you can find at Buddhagroove.
- Commit to a daily practice of self-compassion. In the flow of life, a self-compassionate response means honoring the pain of seeing what we’ve done; recognize difficult situations as areas in need of healing, acknowledging the experience and its related shame in love, and then opening our hearts with forgiveness and compassion in the midst of shame.
When more and more people commit to practicing self-compassion, we create a culture of kindness in which everyone can heal and grow. Together, we can become a force for healing in a broken world.
About the Author
©Copyright Ada Porat. For more information, visit https://adaporat.com. This article may be freely distributed in whole or in part, provided there is no charge for it and this notice is attached.