You hear a lot about compassion these days: feeling it, showing it, and distributing it . . . like pieces of a pie to family members, partners, and the people who get under your skin.
But meeting out compassion for others without first setting some aside for yourself is a recipe for inner struggle.
So what about self-compassion?
Nineteenth-century English novelist George Gissing reflected, “Life, I fancy, would very often be insupportable, but for the luxury of self-compassion.”
Gissing was right . . . life is leagues more painful in the absence of self-compassion. But self-compassion is not a mere luxury—it’s an essential.
When you have developed an indirect relationship with your Self, your sense of self-worth hinges on external affirmation of your achievements. This makes it easy to fall into the trap of being too hard on yourself. Self-compassion and forgiveness are often tossed by the wayside—as if they were impediments to your happiness and success instead of valuable tools for instilling self-love.
If you’re convinced that self-compassion is for everyone else but you and that you’ll be just fine without it, here are a few habits we encourage you to eliminate, so you can move forward with a healthy sense of Self.
1. Always put others first.
We’ve come a long way, but women are often expected to be unconditionally generous, self-sacrificing, and patient when it comes to the needs and desires of other people. Women are supposed to be nice at home, at work, and even in the grocery store checkout line.
While none of these traits are inherently negative, you can do some serious damage to your Sense of Self if you put others first every time.
Read up on some ways to practice self-care so that when you start to feel the burnout, you can exercise present moment awareness and prioritize your needs and desires right away.
Allowing others to come first may temporarily soothe the anxiety that stems from not feeling accepted. But you may also be trying to fill a hole caused by the lack of living as your true Self.
2. Hold yourself to impossibly high standards.
Your fantasy for your perfect Self and perfect life has deep roots in your childhood. When you fail to meet the expectations you’ve set for yourself and start comparing yourself to others, you risk succumbing to a vicious cycle of self-reproach and internalized feelings of inadequacy.
Our ideals can function as blocks, holding us back instead of helping us accept being in the Here and Now:
“If a person can accept reality as it is, in that very acceptance, all tension disappears. Anguish, anxiety, despair—they all simply evaporate. And when there is no anxiety, no tension, no fragmentariness, no division, no schizophrenia, then suddenly there is joy. Then suddenly there is love, then suddenly there is compassion. These are not ideals; these are very natural phenomena. All that is needed is to remove the ideals, because those ideals are functioning as blocks . . .” – Osho (Emotional Wellness)
Instead of beating yourself up for not doing everything you think you should be doing, try being kind and gentle with yourself. Restore your sense of Self and see if it doesn’t reveal a different path to fulfillment.
3. Surrender to your superego.
In a competitive world that demands you stay one step ahead, it can feel like self-criticism is a more respected skill than self-compassion. Self-criticism is essential to your growth, of course, and critical thinking is a skill sorely lacking in many people. But if you’re a high-achiever, you may have the tendency to go overboard, because self-criticism is actually a source of great pleasure for many of us.
If your Substitute Sense of Self is calling the shots, your superego—that internal voice that passes judgment on every single thing you think, say, and do—makes it easy to mistake cynicism and self-flagellation for critical thinking.
4. Beat yourself up for not being “naturally” self-compassionate.
Isn’t self-compassion natural and inherent for everyone? Unfortunately, no. Self-compassion is a learned skill. And if you didn’t have a dependable source of compassion and support as a child, it will be difficult for you to feel self-compassion as an adult.
If you’re a parent, you must recover your own Sense of Self in order to help your child develop self-esteem. Putting yourself first is unimaginable for some parents, but it’s what you need to do if you still need to learn self-compassion.
Self-compassion is not a finite resource. As you develop your self-awareness, your self-compassion will also expand. You can build your capacity for compassion through developing a healthy lifestyle . . . and incorporating daily practices like self-care.
Compassion must start with the person of whom you’re most critical: yourself. Ready to be more self-compassionate?
Author: Lindsay Dick