By Caer Weber
“I will always be here to support you, whatever your choices are. Above all, I will help you whenever you are in pain. I won’t put you down for it. I won’t make you feel worse than you already feel. I want to help you be yourself and be proud of who you are. Whatever you choose to do is fine by me. If you are happy then I am happy.”
Can you imagine hearing that every day? Can you imagine that was the voice in your head saying that to you all the time? A voice that never criticized you, never called you an “idiot”, never put you down, and never blamed you for mistakes and failure to accomplish things?
Well, it’s possible. Very possible. It’s all part of holding the utmost self-compassion for yourself. So how do we do this? I lead workshops on self-care and self-compassion here at MDABC, and here is a little bit of what I teach participants:
We can hold compassion for ourselves in three ways – through kind self-talk, like in the above quote, through physical gestures that can give us comfort and, finally, through practicing the best self-care that we can.
So many of us have self-critics in our head; that voice that is always angry, always judging and always critical. It finds fault with what we are doing, have done, or haven’t done. Sigh. It’s so exhausting…
However, it can help to understand that self-critical voice. It is the scared part in all of us. The part that is afraid we won’t measure up in some way, the part that is afraid that we will be rejected by others. When we humans first started out on this planet, we needed that kind of vigilance for survival. We needed constant reminders to be aware of our surroundings, aware of predators. We also found safety and better chances of survival when we were part of a group, a tribe. And to be rejected by that group, to be ousted by the tribe, was the worst possible thing that could happen to us.
We no longer need the tribe for physical survival but we still need others to validate us and accept us as we are. The self-critic’s job is to make sure we behave in such a way to be accepted by others. Unfortunately, the self-critic goes about it all in the wrong way. It undermines us, and makes us feel bad and guilty about our failings. It is trying to protect us but it comes at such a cost. In contrast, a voice of compassion, like the one in the opening quote, can help in a marvelous way. It can support us and encourage us. It can forgive us when we make mistakes and point out that we are simply human. It can be gentle and loving with us, praise us for our accomplishments, and make us feel so good about ourselves.
Possibly the most wonderful gift of all is that when we have that voice of compassion inside us it tends to spread to others. The more compassionate I feel towards myself the more compassion I have for other people too. And that feels so good. Physical gestures are helpful too. Many of us like to be touched and held. Sometimes there is no one to do that – except there is. We, ourselves, can do this. We can hug ourselves, touch our cheek, or put a hand on our heart. When I put my hand there I can feel that “aww” moment. It makes me melt with gentleness and kindness. I still need hugs and physical contact from others but my own touch says, in that moment, “I am here for you. I care about you.”
We can act compassionately towards ourselves by practicing the best self-care possible. I teach people in my workshops that sitting down, thinking and planning our self-care has huge benefits in the long run. And I define self-care as taking care of our needs in the healthiest way possible. Figuring out what we need, what we have, and what we are lacking brings attention to the way we live our lives, and the way we care for ourselves.
A last word on self-compassion: it can help us to have more compassion for ourselves, and for others, when we have the understanding that suffering is a part of life for all living things. I don’t mean that we focus on this in a negative way but in a way that sees and understands that we are not alone in our suffering – though we may be physically alone in the moment. It does help to keep that perspective when we are in deep suffering. And it helps to remember that this is simply a human experience that I’m having and that people all over the world experience this every day. It also helps to remember that everyday people work through their suffering, come to a greater understanding of life, and are able to find joy at the end of that painful tunnel. There is always hope in our suffering, if we can remember it.
Self-compassion is about accepting ourselves in this moment exactly who we are, knowing we are okay the way we are. It doesn’t mean we can’t change some of the things we do, it just means we accept and allow ourselves simply to be – in this moment. I speak from experience – it is a wonderful moment.