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Practicing self-compassion

I thought it might be a good idea to write about self-compassion as a follow-up to last month’s blog about change.

Maybe you had set some goals or intentions for yourself and now you are not quite where you envisioned yourself to be by now. There were days you missed taking the steps you promised yourself you would take. You may even be starting down the defeating path of negative self-talk and criticism, in other words, beating yourself up. On some level many of us believe that chastising ourselves, cracking the whip, is the best way to get back on track.

Yet what would it feel like to stop the self-criticism and offer yourself permission to be human? I’m not suggesting giving you permission to let yourself off the hook; rather I’m offering an alternate to self-criticism by suggesting you give yourself some kindness, support and understanding…self-compassion.

Many of us can easily elicit feelings of compassion for others. Our compassion arises when we recognize another’s suffering and being moved by this suffering we open our hearts, feeling warmth and caring towards them. Essentially, we want to help.

We express our compassion with kindness, tenderness, benevolence, empathy and mercy. We offer others support and understanding when they face personal challenges. We listen as they describe their feelings of disappointment in themselves for not living up to their expectations.

Sadly, what we direct inward is a different story. We tend to hold back on the kindness we need, viewing self-compassion as self-absorption, self-indulgence, self-centeredness or simply just plain selfishness. We mistakenly think self-compassion is another word for complacency and weakness…an excuse for our shortcomings.

Actually, just the opposite is true. In her book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, Kristen Neff PhD writes, “self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings.”

It may help to take a look at where compassion originates. When we feel compassion for others we realize that suffering, failure and imperfection are part of the shared human experience. Cultivating self-compassion allows us to experience self-acceptance, putting ourselves within the circle of that shared human experience.

Having self-compassion means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things don’t always go as planned, you make mistakes and fall short of your ideals. This is our human condition and it is true for all of us.

When we practice self-acceptance we allow ourselves to work towards self-improvement and away from perfectionism. We are more mindful of our connectedness, feeling less alone and isolated in our pursuits. We recognize that we may hit roadblocks or stray along the way AND that’s okay.

Compassion wants health and well-being for others. Isn’t that what we also want for ourselves…vibrant health, feelings of well-being and acceptance of all that makes us who we are…embracing our perfect imperfections.
Self-criticism asks, “Am I good enough?” Self-compassion asks, “What’s good for me?”

So please be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that real change takes time and if we offer ourselves support rather than judgment we allow room for mistakes, recognizing all growth is a process. If things don’t go as planned, in other words since the process isn’t perfect, we are still okay and we have the choice to try again. Seeing ourselves clearly as vulnerable, fallible beings who are trying our best gives us the freedom to try, to take chances, to be brave around change.

As humans we are complicated and messy and wonderful: we have our inner light and we have our darkness. If we are willing, we can learn from our mistakes and setbacks, using that knowledge as the foundation for moving forward.

So when you slip a bit, don’t ask yourself “What is wrong with me?” instead ask “How can I support myself now?”
I’ll end with a favorite quote about self-acceptance…

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I can change.” ~Carl Rogers