Cultivating Compassion

“Self-compassion is not a way of judging ourselves positively, self-compassion is a way of relating to ourselves kindly, embracing ourselves as we are, flaws and all”. Kristin Neff

Kindness is probably my number one value. It requires an allowing, an acceptance, and an unconditional positive regard whether for myself or others. Self-compassion is, I believe, the key component that allowed me to move through and out of a depression. Its practice allows me to pay attention to and take care of my emotional wellness. It gives me permission to try things out, make mistakes, and not get caught up in a spiral of self-criticism and self-blame. And when I can do this for myself it becomes much easier to create this non-judgemental space for others.

So what gets in the way of self-compassion? Where do I start? Maybe that’s not the question that’s needed. Maybe I don’t need to talk about the impact of the stories that develop from our early conditioning in family, culture and society. Or living in a society that has powerful corporations financially benefitting and supporting us to stay in self-criticism and self-doubt. Maybe, instead, I focus on the now, the reality of what we are currently experiencing: That many of us have ingrained ways of talking to ourself that are harsh, critical, judgemental, and often mean.

Compassion requires what Carl Rogers referred to as ‘unconditional positive regard’. This means accepting and supporting someone regardless of what they have said or done. The accepting part understands that behaviours all have a need and an emotion attached. The supporting part means holding space to learn, grow and encourage. To believe that we are all doing our best, with what we have available to us at any given time.

Compassion requires that we understand our humanness – that our struggles, suffering, and distress are felt by us all, even that apparently ‘have it altogether’ colleague, or parent at the school gates, or wealthy cousin with the high-powered job. Compassion allows us to connect in our flawed humanness, and helps alleviate the judgments and comparisons we get caught up in.

How do we go from self-critical to self-compassionate inner dialogue? These are things I have found helpful:

  1. Noticing your thoughts. Thoughts form our story, but it doesn’t mean they are our truth. How are you talking with yourself? What language are you using? Notice this as a daily practice, ideally in a journal, until you become more familiar with how you are verbally beating yourself up!
  2. As you begin to notice how you are judging yourself, practice reframing the situation you are berating yourself for. Kindly notice what was going on for you at the time. Were you tired, hungry, overwhelmed, fearful. Notice and give yourself permission to have these feelings and experiences and ask yourself what you were needing at that time.
  3. Reflect on how you would look after yourself next time you are feeling some of the difficult feelings, and how you would support yourself, your values, and those close to you.

I invite you to practice paying attention to the more nurturing, gentle, compassionate voice that is also within you: The kind, supportive voice that encourages you to try new things; that notices and respects how hard you have tried, and pats you on the back.

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