Compassion is a willingness to be open to the suffering of another combined with a desire to eliminate it. It is a fundamental attitude of mindfulness that is cultivated with practice. Compassion has many benefits for both the giver and the receiver and this has been documented in the research. Being compassionate feels good, reduces stress, improves relationships, and is correlated with a number of health benefits.
When we turn compassion inward, we call this self-compassion. While most of us understand the importance having compassion for others and can readily access it with those we care about, treating ourselves with compassion feels unfamiliar and even uncomfortable. But, when we think about it logically, it only makes sense that we could also benefit greatly from practicing self-compassion. In fact, the research is bearing this out. In addition, there is reason to believe when we treat ourselves with compassion, the benefits we receive ripple out to others.
Practicing self-compassion is a way to befriend ourselves. Many of us have learned to treat ourselves as an afterthought, or in some cases, as a barely tolerable nuisance. We would never speak to a loved one the way we speak to ourselves in our thoughts. When a good friend is struggling, we take notice and lend support. When they make a mistake, we give them the benefit of the doubt and are eager to forgive them. How many of us can say we routinely do these things for ourselves?
Learning to notice our own suffering and being willing to take time to observe it with some objectivity is a crucial skill for self-compassion. We often fail to recognize our unpleasant inner experiences and even when we do, we quickly attempt to avoid or escape them. At the very least, we judge ourselves for them, which often causes us further suffering. This gives us little opportunity to understand suffering on a personal level or how to best respond to it. How can we truly be compassionate with others when we don’t fully understand our own experience of suffering?
Interestingly, being more compassionate with ourselves also helps us in our relationships. We can use the very same concepts and skills to meet ourselves and others with the resources and acceptance we all need. In fact. Michelle Becker, LMFT has created a program called Compassion for Couples (CfC) that combines mindfulness and compassion skills to help couples support themselves and each other, creating relationships characterized by a warm, connected presence.
There are a number of practices that can help you cultivate self compassion. You can learn more about these practices through visiting Dr. Kristin Neff’s website, reading books such as Dr. Christopher Germer’s The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, or taking an 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion course. You may be surprised at how befriending yourself impacts your emotional resilience, and consequently, your relationships with others.
If you would grow to your best self
Be patient, not demanding
Accepting, not condemning
Nurturing, not withholding
Self-marveling, not belittling
Gently guiding, not pushing and punishing
For you are more sensitive than you know
Mankind is as tough as war yet delicate as flowers
We can endure agonies but we open fully only to warmth and light
And our need to grow
Is as fragile as a fragrance dispersed by storms of will
To return only when those storm are still
So, accept, respect, and attend your sensitivity
A flower cannot be opened with a hammer.
– If You Would Grow By: Daniel F. Mead