What does compassion mean?
To me, it means showing empathy, even when it is hard to understand. It means giving someone a chance even after you have been hurt. It means comforting even when it is difficult.
My guess is that many of us feel that compassion is something we must give and receive to others. We search for friends and family who can empathize with what we are going through. We hope for a second chance when our emotions get the best of us and we respond angrily or annoyed. We crave comfort from someone to take the pain away. All of this is definitely true. We need compassion in our relationships to feel understood and connected.
However, I believe it is deeper than only being applicable to relationships with others. To truly be able to show compassion to someone else, we must first be able to show it to ourselves. I know this can sound mindboggling and probably even a bit silly. However, imagine if when you felt nervous, sad, alone, or any of those uncomfortable emotions, you knew there was always someone close by you to count on. That someone is you. Instead of hoping for someone to understand your ups and downs and comfort you, you could count on yourself to share compassion.
So, how do you show self-compassion?
First, notice and acknowledge what is going on in your mind and body. What thoughts are coming up? Are they anxious, sad, excitement, fear…? What physical sensations are you feeling? Are they sharp, dull, numb, fast, slow, hot, cold, etc.? What is your breath like, are you holding it, are you breathing quicker? Really pay attention but don’t try and fix or negotiate, just experience it. Next, think to yourself, what would I say to a close friend, my child, my sister, anyone you care for if they were experiencing the exact same thing I am right now. Sit with that and really try to listen to the words and energies you would want them to experience. Now, try to express that same message to yourself. Now notice how that feels and acknowledge it. Again, no need to get rid of the feelings or give yourself advice. Show yourself understanding and caring, just sit with yourself through this time.
Self-compassion is not a skill that is developed overnight. It takes time and patience. We must practice it because we are not used to looking at ourselves through a compassionate lens. Instead, we are judgmental, assume the worst, and often are our own worst critic. However, how can we expect someone else to fully meet our needs if we don’t take the time to learn and discover how to meet our own?
What is the benefit?
Discovering self-compassion allows you to figure out what your true needs are. When you are let down by a friend, what actually comforts you? When you are nervous for your interview, what calms you so you can have clarity in the moment? Once you have a better understanding of yourself, you can not only understand your needs but empathize with them. This can feel so empowering. Also, by knowing how you feel empathy, you can better seek this from others. You won’t have to depend on others but instead allow those around you to only lift you further up.
Often, you can practice and grow your own self-compassion but sometimes you may need help. Therapy can provide the guidance and space for this discovery. A therapist can help you discover your needs by giving suggestions on how to stay present, even when you feel like hiding from your feelings. We can encourage you and acknowledge your successes throughout your journey. If you are interested in this guidance, please contact me. I would be happy to discuss how I may be able to help.