03 March, 2016

Helping ourselves

I write (and comment) on self-compassion quite a lot. Maybe because I never really discovered it – or was never able to put it into practice – until my 40s. I don't think I'm alone there. I don't think I'm alone in saying I'm still working on it, either!

The reason I write about self-compassion is that I think we can be so hard on ourselves that we never give ourselves space to breathe, to just "be." Or – relevant to this community – we don’t allow ourselves to grieve, telling ourselves to “get over it” or to “suck it up,” or beating ourselves up for being weak. I think though, that by pushing ourselves constantly, harshly, we are living our lives falsely, denying who we are, or trying to force ourselves to be the people we would like to be. Perhaps we make it even harder to be the people we want to be, or the people we could truly become. In hindsight (it’s always in hindsight, isn’t it?), I know I’ve been guilty of this. I still am, if I’m honest, but less often.

I fear too, that in being tough on ourselves, we’re also tough on our relationships. We might take out this stress on our partners, or feel that it is only fair if they meet our exacting standards – after all, we’re trying to meet those same standards, why shouldn't they? Or perhaps we’re tough on ourselves by doing all the work in our relationships, or always taking the hurt, always trying to be the bigger person, protecting others, but not ourselves. None of this eases our hearts, or opens them to others, or allows us to show any degree of kindness to ourselves.

We’re so used to not showing ourselves compassion that the mere thought of it feels indulgent. It feels as if, by accepting our flaws and being kind to ourselves when we need it, we’re being weak, selfish, that we’re letting standards slip. It feels as if we’re giving ourselves an excuse to be lazy and become complacent. As if we’re giving ourselves a free pass to a self-indulgent life.

But I don’t think that self-compassion is a free pass. Clearly if we acknowledge our flaws, we can see room for change. That’s hard. It’s not the easy way out. Acknowledging and accepting our flaws is tough. In many ways it might be easier to just keep up the pretence, or to keep busy and not have to think about it, or worse, do anything about it. That might work for some people, but perhaps not in the long term. At same stage, I think it is healthier to be honest with ourselves, and to learn not to beat ourselves up. That’s wasted energy we could use on being the people we truly are, the people we truly want to be. Or on just being.


  1. With Grey's recent job loss, we've been talking a lot about this. Accepting who you are and not pushing yourself to be what you're not. It is such as hard thing to do as there's this tendency to want to modify who are are to please others (or retain work) and even to move ahead.

    I didn't start practicing self-compassion until recently either. And apparently that delay is also normal, which was a surprise as I expected to be a late bloomer with this. Everything you talked about it true, specially my relationships with others. I find if I am kind with myself, I'm also kind with others.

  2. I'm definitely one of the people who has heard (and really needed to hear) your messages about the importance of self-compassion. I grew up in the school of hard knocks and it's seemed like my life has been one event after another that required me to pick myself up and dust off, with no attention given to feelings. Honestly the moment that I started to be nice to me was the moment true healing began. And with healing I've become a much more compassionate person to myself and others.

  3. Self-compassion is so important... I agree with you that it's not indulgent or a pass to be selfish, but rather a way to be kind to yourself, to forgive yourself, and to do what's needed to be the best you possible. You can't do that without those pieces. It's so hard, but so necessary. I could definitely stand to be nicer to me on a number of issues.

  4. "Or on just being" - YES!!! Love this. I think pushing to get over it or suck it up we really cheat ourselves of our own experience.

    I've found that when I show myself compassion by functioning within my limits instead of in accordance with what other people want, I often do not receive a positive response the outside world. One of the things that makes practicing self compassion hard, but it is just that - a practice.