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In reflecting on my own experience growing up, and also reflecting on the personal histories that many of my clients have shared with me, I have noticed a common thread – a shared experience for many of us. I have noticed that for many of us the development of virtues such as being responsible individuals, being goal-oriented, hardworking and motivated towards success, came with the indirect message that we needed to be hard on ourselves to establish these virtues and keep them alive. We confuse the good practice of holding ourselves accountable with punishing ourselves for our inherent imperfections. We lose compassion for ourselves, though we maintain compassion for others. For many of us, our suffering is a result of the poorly developed relationship we have with ourselves; we have either forgotten or we never learned to be kind to who we are. In my own life’s journey and with the clients I see for psychotherapy, I often integrate the good practice of developing self-compassion.
Self-compassion is the act of being kind and understanding toward yourself. Rather than being highly critical of yourself because of shortcomings and mistakes made, Self-compassion encourages you to accept that you are human and imperfect. It seems strange that we would struggle to be kind to ourselves, but part of the reason for this struggle may be our misunderstanding of kindness to self as a code phrase for self-pity; which many of us are understandably averse to. But self-pity is, what self-compassion is not! When individuals feel self-pity, they become immersed in their own problems and forget that others have similar problems. They ignore their connections with others, and instead feel that they are the only ones in the world who are suffering. This takes the “normal-ness” out of the experience you are having, and this tends to make the suffering worse.
Many people say they are reluctant to be self-compassionate because they are afraid they would let themselves get away with anything; being overly indulgent. Being kind to yourself also means holding yourself accountable and doing what is healthy for your present and your future self! Remember that being compassionate to oneself means that you want to be happy and healthy in the long-term. In many cases, just giving oneself pleasure may harm well-being (so we definitely would not want to confuse having an entire tub of ice cream with the process of self-compassion).
The truth is many of us already know how to be compassionate, because we are to others. With others, we are able to see their suffering and then respond to it with kindness and help. This is the process we must engage in with ourselves – noticing our suffering, identifying where it is coming from and then helping ourselves as we would a good friend.
These things I leave for you to contemplate, and until next time – Be kind to yourself and look out for your neighbour. If you would like further support on your journey to self-compassion, contact our team at Drop of Life Psychology Clinic.
By: Matthew McKenzie, B.Sc. (Hon.), M.Sc. (Dist.)
Psychologist, Drop of Life Psychology Clinic