Something a lot of people forget is that self-compassion is a good thing. It makes us happier, healthier, and more effective human beings. But we don’t often practice self-compassion because we don’t think we deserve it, or because we think there’s someone else suffering more than us, as though it’s a competition. When comparing ourselves to others, we often decide that the suffering we are experiencing isn’t real suffering. But the truth is, all suffering is valid, regardless of its magnitude.
You do deserve self-compassion
We all react differently to stress. Some people have a hard time sleeping, or find themselves turning to vices like drinking or overeating. Some people find it harder not to fight with their roommates or partners when they’re stressed. Whatever your reaction, it’s important to take a moment and inquire within yourself about why you are experiencing this symptom, because that’s what it is: it’s a symptom of stress.
Our world has been in a fluctuating state for some time, and even if we are okay – meaning our needs are met, e.g. we have a roof over our heads and food on the table – we can still be stressed. We all experience suffering in our own way, so no matter our individual circumstances, each and every person deserves to have self-compassion. Yes, it is important to care about others and act generously, but it is also important to direct that kindness towards yourself as well.
Contrary to most of our inner beliefs, taking care of yourself is not selfish.
Unfortunately, a common judgment regarding self-compassion is that it is a selfish act. But there is an important difference between self-compassion and self-absorption. The difference is this: self-absorption makes your world smaller. It causes you to fold more and more inwards, and you don’t care about others anymore. You feel like your world is tight and constricted, and filled with fear and panic for yourself, and you don’t have room to be generous toward others because you are so worried about yourself.
In contrast, self-compassion is soothing and opening in nature. It is softening our hearts, and allows us to have more room for others because we are tending to ourselves. It leaves us feeling bigger, resourced, nourished, and healthier. When we practice self-compassion, we allow ourselves to be more available for others in need.
So how do we start being more self-compassionate?
Acknowledge that you are, in fact, suffering
To be able to have compassion for ourselves, we need to first acknowledge that we are suffering. Remember that regardless of how much your suffering compares to others, you are still suffering. For example, if you are struggling with isolation because you live by yourself, or conversely, you feel you don’t have any alone time, that is still suffering. We have to acknowledge this because compassion is actually a response to suffering, so we cannot have compassion without that initial acknowledgement of our situation.
Discover what feels good to you
Once we believe we deserve compassion and are ready to bring more compassion to ourselves, we need to learn what that compassion looks like. Think about how you feel when you do certain things. Does going for a walk make you feel more grounded, more at peace, more generous, and more open? Do you feel better when you take a bath, walk the dog, read a book, or clean the house?
Self-compassion could be anything that works for you, not just the typical “self-care” acts. It only matters that you listen to your body and your mind’s needs, and address them head-on. What works for one person may not work for you; for example, you may feel more stressed after taking the dog for a walk, but your partner may find it soothing. The goal is to find what soothes your own wounds.
Ask for what you need
Once you’ve determined what can help you feel more soothed, healed, or grounded, learn to make it happen for yourself. Call up your friend and ask if they are available to go for a walk with you. Reach out to those who can help you, and let them know what you need. We have to give people the opportunity to help us, because they can’t help unless they know we need it.
Maybe you need your partner to watch the kids for an hour so you can relax in the bath. Maybe you need to call a friend and just check in on each other, to erase your worry about their wellbeing. However you do it, making sure your needs are met is just as important as helping others around you. Above all else, remember that your struggles are just as worthy as someone else’s, and you deserve compassion just as much as others do.
Compassion is not something that is scarce, or only reserved for a few worthy ones. Compassion is a quality of Love (with a capital L), and part of our essential nature. Like real Love, at its source, it is unconditional and infinite and wants to give itself abundantly. So let’s be generous with this beautiful healing balm of compassion. Yes, towards others, but also towards ourselves!