What is Self-compassion?

Many of us have brutal self-talk when we do something less than perfect.  That inner voice can be very harsh, even downright mean.  Sometimes the shame demons, as Brené Brown calls them, are relentless as they pounce—from the inside—at the slightest misstep.  When the shame demons or the inner critic lines up the firing squad, self-compassion steps in, as if to says, “I’m here.  You’re ok.  You are safe.  You are loved.  We’ll make it through this together.”

Self-compassion is recognizing you need a hug and being able to give that hug to yourself.  When we act with Self-compassion, we treat our inner workings as if we’re holding our two-year-old little self—gentle and loving.  Self-compassion is feeling empathy for our own pain and having gentle self-talk and willingness to relieve some of that suffering by accepting our own imperfect humanness with a loving embrace. 

Self-compassion understands our humanity, there are times when we are awesome and times we’re not.  There are times we remember and times we don’t.  There are times when we get the right answer and times we don’t. 

Self-compassion is a self-care tool—it tends our soul.  When we act out of self-compassion, we value our own needs and we understand the only way to be able to show up fully is to tend our inner garden first.  Tending our inner garden does not mean we adopt a narcissistic thinking pattern and only participate in things that feel good, fun, or pleasurable but it does mean we say no when we need to say no in order to protect our time and energy.

For me, feeding my soul means that I spend time everyday meditating, reading, reflecting, and writing.  When I do these things, my inner life is nourished, and I can meet the world with a whole heart.  Sometimes when we are not tending our inner garden first, we show up for the world out of pleasing or obligation rather than from a compassionate heart.

Self-compassion is gentile; when we yell at our spouse because we are feeling fearful about our finances.   Self-compassion might say, “Oh yes…I understand why I reacted that way.  It’s easy to be reactive with this level of financial stress.”  And then compassion kicks in and propels us to take responsibility for our part of the misguided communication with our spouse because we care about his experience as well.  Self-compassion is kindness to our inner being, especially when our outer being is showing its humanity—imperfection.

A recent example where I needed to show self-compassion happened just after I returned to the US from China.  I hadn’t slept more than 2 or 3 hours a night for a week.  I was on low reserves and my normally very high tolerance was non-existent.  I was in middle of the intersection waiting for a man to walk across the crosswalk in front of me before I turned.  Out of the blue, the guy in the car behind me lays into his horn.  It wasn’t a light tap on the horn.  It was a full blown obnoxious, loud, elongated, HONK – HONK – HONK and then another HONK – HONK – HONK.  I immediately felt fire coursing through my body—I remember how strange it was to feel that triggered but before I knew it my fist was in the air and my mouth was saying, “What’s wrong with you…are you blind?  There is a pedestrian!  Stop honking, moron!”  Clearly the man honking didn’t see the pedestrian in front of me.  Thankfully he only saw me mouth the words since all my windows were closed. 

I have never yelled at another driver in my life before this moment.  But today was the perfect storm and I had zero tolerance.  This situation for me, was a breeding ground for shame because I failed in an area where I am supposed to be an expert. 

If I would have gone down the shame road it would have looked something like this, “And you call yourself a meditation teacher?  Really!  You teach compassion…that was really compassionate (big eye roll)—you just yelled at a total stranger because he honked his horn!  What kind of compassion teacher are you?  You’re a joke!”  But instead of starting the shame tapes (how cool I did this), I looked at myself in the rearview mirror and I started to laugh, like a deep belly laugh.  I thought, “Wow that was super intense!  What if you were going to teach a meditation class and the guy you yelled at pulled into the parking lot behind you to attend your class?”  I started to laugh even harder.  I did not laugh out of disrespect for the man or wishing harm or discomfort to him in any way—I was laughing at the absurdity of my reaction to the situation.

In the moment when I was reacting towards the guy in the car, I was not acting as my best self, I was not a model meditation teacher or model teacher of compassion—but in that moment I was fully human.  Clearly my lack of sleep contributed to my extremely low tolerance.  Next time, of course I hope to have the insight to act with more tolerance and compassion, but I do not need to let this story play any longer than it already has in my mind.  My self-compassion allows me to see through that “unwanted” behavior to the beautiful human being that lies beneath.  My humanity, like all of ours, reflects both light and dark; in times of darkness self-compassion shines brightly from the inside out.

Does this article resonate for you?  Is there a recent experience where it would have served you to show yourself more self-compassion?  Please email me or reply to this blog. 

May you feel peace and ease in life.  May we all act from the wisdom of our best selves.

About the Author:

Dr. Rinaldi has spent the last 8 years researching compassion and self-awareness as well as the effects of meditation on the psyche. Trained in archetypal psychology her teachings incorporate the skill of compassion as a key to humanity's next evolutionary process towards a more peaceful way of living. Living more peacefully directly affects how we are able to relate in our personal and professional relationships. As we become more effective and psychologically whole, we become more equipped to handle challenging situations with more equanimity.

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