You would think as a psychotherapist who says she works from a compassion-focused framework, I would be an expert at being self-compassionate. Not so. At best, I am reluctantly self-compassionate. Allow me to explain.
I was introduced to the idea of self-compassion in December 2016. I had signed up for a workshop on how to work on shame in clients and one of the proposed approached was teaching the client self-compassion. I felt myself nodding as I read the required reading before the workshop, already thinking of which clients would benefit best from this approach. However, once at the workshop, much to my annoyance, the approach was being taught through experiential exercises, meaning we would have to practice self-compassion on ourselves first. I groaned inwardly and rolled my eyes to the heavens.
Some context: I am not the model of wellness. I am a born and raised pessimist. Our household motto was, “Expectation and attachment breed disappointment.” Not exactly the, “You are a beautiful child of the universe,” stuff you see everywhere now. And so, as an adult, and as a psychotherapist, I struggled with these “hippy” practices of showing self-love and radical acceptance. It made sense for my clients, but not for me. Double standards at its best.
However, something changed for me at that workshop. As I allowed myself to be led through an exercise where I imagined myself being compassionate towards others, and then gradually, towards myself, I felt a part of me breathe a sigh of relief. “You see my suffering,” it said, “You recognize it as something real. It needs to be addressed.”
It was a startling experience but one that oddly gave me hope. I was deeply burned out by my job and although I desperately craved a break, I wouldn’t allow myself to contemplate a sick leave because I wasn’t “sick.” What followed in the weeks afterwards, was for me to seriously question why I thought I didn’t need self-compassion. I was compassion towards everyone, and their dog; why not be compassionate towards myself?
I bought Kristen Kneff’s book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, and went about trying to apply her wisdom to my life. It was not easy. I struggled a lot with the prescribed mantra,
“This is a moment of suffering. All human beings suffer. May I be kind to myself. May I show myself the compassion I need.”
I belittled it, denied it, ignored it and challenged it. But that part of me that finally felt validated at the workshop refused to give up on self-compassion. Whenever I felt myself resisting the mantra, I would take a few deep breaths, tell myself, “I need this,” and try again. I changed around the words so that it sounded more like “me.” Often, the resisting voice overpowered the compassionate one but the times I could hear the self-compassion, I would feel relief. “Finally. You see my suffering.” And once I saw the suffering, I wanted to do something to alleviate it. I sought help, made a plan and quit my job. I vowed to myself to never ignore my heart again.
Two years later, I still struggle with showing myself self-compassion. I still feel overwhelmed by the super positive messages in the wellness world. I still don’t feel like a “beautiful child of the universe.” But that’s okay. Being a peaceful, healthy, balanced human being is hard. A lot of people struggle with being well. May we be kind to ourselves through this journey. May we show ourselves the compassion we need.