by Linda Christina Redgrave
2016, a year I will never forget. My takeaway from 2016 was that I needed to learn how to be more compassionate with myself.
Self compassion was not something I practised and was a concept that felt foreign to me. To survive the events of the past year, I needed to at the least be open to the idea of showing myself more compassion and less criticism. For the many people who are also going through challenging times, I wanted to write a piece on self compassion in hopes that we can start feeling better about it. This is just my take on it. I am by no means an expert.
In today’s society, being compassionate to others in need is deemed socially acceptable and expected of us. On the flip side, I have found that expressing self compassion is not something I remember ever hearing about. I was never taught about self compassion at school or at home. I was never taught how to develop this life skill that could potentially hold my hand through troubled times. No one was.
Religions preach to their congregations about giving to those in need and extending kindness to others, because we are taught its how we demonstrate that we are a good people. We volunteer at food banks, homeless shelters and old age homes etc, with the sole purpose of giving and showing compassion to others, yet we rarely place the same importance on our own well being. The unbalanced societal dynamic of this emotion could leave some viewing self compassion as a sign of weakness, for others it may feel narcissistic, self pitying, over indulgent, or may just be a non-issue. It is hard for many to even acknowledge that they are suffering. Some may perceive themselves as being vulnerable should they practice self compassion. This may subconsciously leave one feeling isolated, and open for attack. Survival of the fittest. We may feel alone in our suffering but it is the shared human experience.
Since the beginning of time we have felt safe in the pack, the tribe, the group, because being accepted meant survival. To be thrown out of the tribe meant you were alone fending for yourself with the looming possibility of death. We are primally programmed to belong, to fit in and be a part of the community. Sheltered by the herd we feel a better chance of survival. We learn quickly as mammalians to care for each other, but to show the same care for ourselves can feel wrong and out of place. Weak.
Being confronted with problems activates our survival instinct, and the typical response is to try to fix it. If the solution to a problem is not within reach, then self doubting and criticism can quickly take over. Our inner critic. Our inner critic telling us criticism is the key to motivation. If the problem is fixable, then we are once again safe. Survival. Problem is, given that our inner critic was put in place many years ago, for most, during childhood, it usually isn’t very helpful. In most cases it’s just hurtful and keeps us in fear, frozen from moving forward. Self compassion can help calm that inner critic.
What does self compassion look like?
There are as many ways to express self compassion as there are people, but I think the underlying theme is seeing yourself clearly without criticism and doing what is necessary for your own care, self soothing and healing. Letting yourself feel and honouring whatever presents itself.
I’ve heard that people who regularly practice self compassion are typically more compassionate to others, more understanding and less judgemental.