…If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom. Rumi
When starting work with a client, I take part of our first session to summarize the methods & approaches to therapy I’ll use during our time together: internal and external family systems, motivational interviewing, acceptance commitment therapy, and compassion focused therapy.
As a part of describing compassion focused therapy, I ask a few questions to get a sense of how compassion plays out in this person’s life. The most common response to my questions go like this, “Yes! I am VERY compassionate towards others/friends/family.” And when asked how they do with self compassion? “Oh…no…I don’t think I do that. Probably, not at all.” Even more common, the person sitting with me will remark, “I’m not very nice to myself.” And here, in this correlation with “niceness”, is where we have misconstrued and undersold the necessity of compassion with ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong, if you can be nice and kind to yourself we are on our way to where the good stuff lies, but if we see compassion as “being nice” we are missing the point. At its root, compassion means “to suffer with” and frankly, that doesn’t sound nice- it sounds hard. More than picking ourselves up when we’re down, compassion gets down in the depths and aligns with us instead of telling us where we should be or how we should be feeling. Compassion isn’t saying to ourselves “I am such a failure!” when we bomb a test. Compassion says, “I failed and this really sucks because this grade meant a lot to me.”
Research(click for link) has shown that individuals using self compassion practices report greater life satisfaction and demonstrate markers of healthy psychological growth. Another study (click) suggests that the personality traits attributed to self esteem actually stem from self compassion.
When we work from a place of self compassion we remove one of the most energy-expending and destructive struggles: the one we create with ourselves. By judging, blaming, and tearing ourselves down, we put so much negative focus inward, not even tending to the obstacle in front of us. Judgment and blame can spiral our thinking into paralysis. Self compassion invites us to understand ourselves and move through the obstacle in front of us.
If you would like to become an ally with yourself and grow your self compassion, think of this next time you experience a set back, failure, blow to your confidence ask yourself this: are you with or against yourself in this?