Brené Brown (my researcher crush) says that we can only be as compassionate with others as we are with ourselves. I remember when I first read this, it was a big blow. I considered myself a very compassionate person however I was also incredibly perfectionistic and harsh with myself. This just did not compute for me, I must be an exception to this rule, right? Well, as I have worked on increasing my self-compassion, I have verrry slowly noticed some shifts that I’d like to share.
One such moment was in the airport today. Traveling is stressful for many of us. It’s easy to feel hurried, annoyed and frustrated. I was in line to go through security check when a woman was ushered in front of me by a staff member. This woman was crying and was fairly disorganized. If she were in my office, I’d likely be feeling compassion or at the very least curiosity. But I was out in the world, my first feeling was that of annoyance. I was wanting her to “get it together” and to “grow up”. I quickly realized that these are messages that I tell myself.
I then remembered a time when I was traveling, and it felt like everything was going wrong. I had already been traveling for over a day. My credit card had been turned off twice during the trip despite talking to the bank about traveling. I was on the home stretch and I was waiting for my last flight. I was hungry and went to use my card, it didn’t work. My ability to cope in that moment was 0. I may or may not have cussed out a customer service rep from my bank. I definitely sat on the floor at the airport and cried. This was not my finest moment, but it was honestly the best I could do.
I gently reminded myself that I have no idea what is causing this woman’s tears. What if she just lost a loved one and is traveling to their funeral? What if she is missing a flight to a very important event? What if it’s none of my business and I am free to hope she feels better no matter what is causing the tears? In that moment it became very clear to me how my own self-compassion either limits or expands my generosity with others. Allowing myself to remember a moment of my own when I was in distress while traveling and feeling compassion for myself in that situation allowed me to view this stranger with more compassion.
It’s ok that my first reflex was to feel annoyed. My first reaction does not have to be my final reaction. I can even be compassionate with the part of myself that is still learning to be gentle. I’ve spent a lot more of my life being hard on myself than being kind to myself. That part of me will probably always exist but it does not have to doom me to a life of harsh self-criticism. Compassion is a practice, not a destination. Some moments will be easier than others, that’s ok.
I know I just told you last week to be your authentic self and now I’m telling you to be nicer. On the surface this may seem like a conflicting message. I don’t see it that way. If I was suggesting, you just ACT nice that would be inauthentic. But what I am suggesting is a glacial fundamental shift with how you interact with yourself that will ultimately color how you interact with the world.
Would you like to develop more self-compassion? The first step is to start to tune into your internal dialogue. What are you saying to yourself in moments of difficulty? Chances are you say things to yourself that you’d never say to a friend. That can be a good trick, allow yourself to consider what you would tell a friend in the same circumstances. You’d likely comfort them and tell them it’s not so bad.
You don’t have to believe the things you tell yourself, at first, it’s a practice in considering alternative responses. Over time you may even be able to believe some of the kinder responses. We don’t have to automatically believe everything we think. So much of our automatic responses are colored by old messages that are outdated yet familiar. Just because it’s a familiar thought does not make it true. The flip side is true as well, just because it’s an unfamiliar thought doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Embracing ourselves fully is powerful. Self-compassion is a radical act in a world that often tells us we are not good enough. Be radical, love yourself, and embrace others.
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