The Power of Self-Compassion

03/09/2015 06:11 pm ET | Updated May 09, 2015

What if there was one choice you could make that would change everything in your life for the better? Actually, there is. It's the choice to move out of judgment and into compassion for yourself and others.

Compassion is defined as a deep caring for the pain of others, often accompanied by a desire to help. There is nothing that feels more wonderful and comforting than experiencing another's compassionate response to our painful feelings and experiences.

However, it's interesting that compassion is never defined in terms of oneself. Yet, compassion is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves. In fact, when we give compassion to others but not to ourselves, we often end up feeling alone, worn out and uncared for. Lucie is a good example of a person who has compassion for others but not for herself. She is a very caring mother and wife. She listens compassionately to her husband's work problems and does all she can to help him, even when she is having her own work problems. She is always there for her children, helping them with whatever problems arise, as well as for her co-workers. Everyone sees Lucie as a very loving person -- and she is. So why is she often unhappy? Why is she often so fatigued and depleted? The problem is that Lucie is completely out of touch with her own feelings.

Lucie is so focused on meeting everyone else's needs that she never tunes into herself and her own feelings and needs. She doesn't know when she is tired or when she needs time for herself. She doesn't know when she is feeling sad, lonely or anxious. Because she has no compassion for herself, she finds herself using food to fill the inner emptiness that is the result of not taking loving care of herself.

George, on the other hand, lacks compassion for both himself and others. While it may seem as if he has compassion for himself, he also is not tuned into his own feelings. It seems like George has compassion for himself because he does what he wants -- buys what he wants, goes after what he wants, spends time the way he wants. But his choices are coming from his fears and his addictive need to fill up from outside with things and approval rather than from love and compassion for himself. In addition, he is usually unconscious regarding the effect his behavior has on others. He keeps people waiting, doesn't do what he says he is going to do, and becomes judgmental rather than compassionate in the face of another's difficulties. Instead of caring when his wife is tired or needs help, he gets resistant and resentful that she isn't there for him or is asking something of him.

A lack of compassion for oneself and others is a major cause of inner and relationship unhappiness. In terms of personal growth, if you were to just focus on making compassion your highest priority -- both for yourself and for others -- you would find yourself progressing toward happiness, peace and joy more rapidly than you can imagine.

We move into compassion for ourselves when we know that we have very good reasons for our feelings and behavior, and into compassion for others when we know that others also have very good reasons for their feelings and behavior. These good reasons are the fears and false beliefs that we have absorbed from our growing up years that create our painful feelings and our defensive behavior.

Moving into self-compassion takes time and practice:

  • Moving into compassion for yourself starts with noticing your self-judgment. Judgment is the opposite of compassion. When you judge yourself, you are telling yourself that you are wrong or bad for your feelings or behavior, rather than that you have good reasons. Each time you realize that you are judging yourself, consciously open your heart to compassion for yourself. When your intention is to be compassionate rather than judgmental, you will discover that it is not as hard as you think to shift from judgment to compassion.
  • Moving into compassion for others is similar. Begin to notice your anger, irritation, judgment, resentment, or resistance toward others. These negative feelings are the opposite of compassion. Once you notice these feelings, you have the choice to open to caring, understanding -- to compassion.
  • Each time you find yourself judging yourself or others, instead of judging yourself for judging yourself, move into compassion for the judgmental part of you. If you judge yourself for judging yourself or others, you will stay stuck. If you embrace with compassion the judgmental part of yourself, you will find yourself gradually becoming less judgmental and more compassionate.

Each time you are compassionate with yourself and others, it becomes easier next time. You will discover that focusing on compassion for both yourself and others will move you toward the peace and joy you are seeking.

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