I’m not sure where or when I first heard the term self-compassion, but it was a bit of an epiphany. When I mention it to clients, I see the same curious look on their faces. Somehow, believing we need to be nearly perfect, and beating ourselves up when we’re not, has become exceedingly common, and I see it as being very destructive. Lack of self-compassion is creating a culture of anxiety-ridden, over-achievers who are making themselves sick. Literally. I had a psychology professor who talked a lot about “the tyranny of the shoulds,” a term coined by the famous psychoanalyst Dr. Karen Horney (pronounced “aye”), which essentially refers to the hopeless search for our perfect selves and the self-hatred that results when we cannot reach that standard. Out of curiosity, I googled the word tyranny: “cruel and oppressive government or rule.” Sometimes I ban the word should from my office. Words are powerful…try replacing should with want, as in “I want to go to the gym.”
Self-compassion is not self-pity. One of the better known experts in the area of self-compassion is Dr. Kristin Neff, who describes self-compassion as the act of being loving, kind and understanding with yourself when faced with your own shortcomings and inadequacies the same as you would to someone else, a loved one, for example. The next time you feel angry at yourself for something, imagine your best friend telling you that very same thing; What would you say to her or him? Now, say that to yourself. This may not be easy; Being hard on ourselves is ingrained in our thought patterns, like unconscious, deep-seated beliefs about ourselves that are for the most part, untrue and dysfunctional. It will take practice. That’s ok. Instead of trying to be nearly perfect, remember, you are merely human.
Dr. Neff’s web site, with further information and resources, can be accessed via this link http://self-compassion.org/
I want to leave you with a poem by Derek Walcott, which I think gives us inspiration and food for thought on the topic of self-compassion.
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
For more information on my counselling services, please visit my web site at http://www.dbcounsellingpei.ca/counselling.php