Do you understand the meaning of self-compassion?
I don’t know about you, but for years, I misunderstood the meaning of self-compassion. It wasn’t something I thought about regularly so I really wasn’t even consciously aware of my lack of understanding.
My relationship with self-compassion evolved over the years – from indifference to utmost priority. This helpful tool, I’ve learned, creates peace and also helps me achieve my goals.
I owe my most current appreciation of self-compassion to my teacher Dr. Gabor Maté. It wasn’t until I studied under him learning the psychotherapeutic process called Compassionate Inquiry (CI) where I was able to connect the dots and fully recognize self-compassion as a primary and fundamental process that allows for growth.
This wouldn’t have been my perspective if you asked me 10 years ago.
Truth be told, there was a part of me that used to think self-compassion was for the weak. I thought self-compassion was the angle you took to give yourself a way out for not keeping your promises or achieving your goals. I perceived it flowery and sentimental and something you didn’t need if you had grit and will.
In retrospect, I couldn’t have been more misinformed.
I believe many of us don’t lean into self-compassion because we don’t really know what it means (I mean, why would we? How many of us took a self-compassion course in school or had a sit-down conversation at home about what it means?). And because of that, we lack an understanding of the benefits we gain with self-compassion.
When I finally experienced self-compassion and learned the true meaning of the word. I also understood the power of self-compassion – and I’d love to share them with you.
Let’s begin with what self-compassion isn’t:
Self-compassion isn’t throwing ourselves a pity party.
Pity is experienced when we perceive ourselves as less than others. That’s the opposite of having compassion for ourselves.
Self-pity limits us because we fundamentally believe that others are better than us. It’s hard to achieve from a place of constant lack and “not good enough.”
If we truly believe we’re worth pitying, we may let ourselves off the hook for accomplishing what we want. This is a form of self-sabotage.
Indulgence can be fun.
But if we’re not conscious about our indulgence – choosing what, when, where, and how we indulge in a way that serves us – we’re letting indulgence drive us.
If we’re not conscious, we can stumble into the shadow side of indulgence – which is addiction.
This can include the common addictive substances we associate with addiction, but also the less frowned upon ones but just as insidious forms of addiction: work, shopping, eating, tv, social media, or gaming, to name a few.
If we’re honest, we know when we’ve crossed that line because a deep part of us knows that we’re harming ourselves. Maybe it’s harming our body, our relationships, our health, our bank account, or our ability to achieve our goals and dreams.
Self-compassion doesn’t harm ourselves or others ever.
A client of mine once shared she doesn’t allow herself to “dwell in self-compassion” because otherwise, she’ll never get anything done. And my past self would have identified with that.
Self-excuse is coming up with the most clever, rational, and understandable reason to excuse ourselves from doing the things that will lead us to what we want.
Similar to self-pity – when we make excuses for ourselves, we allow ourselves to get “off the hook.” Over time, we sabotage our success – feel worse about ourselves – which feeds into the cycle of self excuse again.
This isn’t self-compassion.
Because again, self compassion doesn’t harm us or others.
The cost of not practicing self-compassion
Our society may have conflated self-compassion with self-pity, self-indulgence, or self-excuse. Self-compassion is none of the above.
But when we misunderstand self-compassion to mean any of these things, naturally we don’t want to have anything to do with it. Especially if we’re ambitions, performance-orientated, and goal-driven.
And by the way, many achievement-oriented individuals tend to be the least self-compassionate.
But also, many achievement-oriented individuals also experience burnout, anxiety, depression, and a general sense of lack of satisfaction despite the achievements.
At the core, self-compassion is understanding the self. Understanding our needs – how they might not have been met and what actions we can take to give ourselves what we need to thrive.
To have self-compassion is to constantly take stock of our own needs and meeting our needs so that we’re setting ourselves up for success.
Having self-compassion for our past selves is reflecting on moments when we weren’t “our best selves.” And rather than beating ourselves up about it – making ourselves feel “bad” or “shameful” or “guilty” – we recognize and acknowledge our unmet needs in those moments. Particularly focusing on the idea that if our needs were met, we would have likely to achieve more favorable outcomes.
How self-compassion helps you achieve your goals
1. When you’re not feeling “bad”, you’re able to perform better
But really, think about something that you’re struggling with right now.
When you really feel into the struggle, do you feel “bad” about it? Even if it’s just a little?
If you were to dig into the “bad” (cuz bad isn’t a feeling), you might find feelings like regret, shame, guilt, and sadness.
If you don’t feel “bad” about your struggles, likely you’re already practicing self-compassion (yay!).
Through the lens of self-compassion, allow yourself to understand why you’re struggling. And you’ll realize these reasons don’t make you “wrong” or “bad.” You’ll understand you’re doing the best with what you have.
For example Maybe I’m struggling because:
- I didn’t get enough rest
- I’m learning something new
- I’m doing something unfamiliar
- I’m scared
- It’s uncomfortable
- I feel insecure
- I don’t want to be disappointed
- I feel alone
- Uncertainty makes me nervous
I’d like to think that none of us would make our child, our friend, or a family member feel bad about themselves because they’re experiencing any of the above. In fact, if we knew a loved one was having any of these experiences, we’d comfort them and ask what they need and how we can help.
But for some strange reason, we don’t treat ourselves in this same way.
When we understand the reason behind our struggle, we realize it’s a perfectly natural human experience.
From this place of understanding without judgment, we’re better able to give ourselves what we need which will help us achieve our goal.
2. When you give yourself what you need, you’re able to perform better
Be it figuring out how a new camera works, lose weight or grow a business – if we’re struggling it’s because we’re not getting enough support.
When we get honest with ourselves and identify the needs we’re not getting, our next step becomes clear.
Maybe I need more time to watch tutorial videos.
Or maybe I need a strategy to lose weight.
Or maybe I need an expert with social media knowledge.
Once we identify our needs, it’s easier for our brain to connect the dots and problem solve. Using the above examples:
I can reset my expectations and give myself more time to learn the new camera, enabling me to demonstrate real competency the next time I need to use my camera.
I can hire a health coach or reach out to a friend who’s lost weight before and ask them to share a strategy for weight loss which can lead me to gain quicker results than stumbling through it on my own.
I can interview a few social media experts for their knowledge on growing business reach.
3. When you understand yourself, you create meaningful goals. Meaningful goals naturally inspire and motivate us to perform better.
When we better understand ourselves, we might come back to your original goal and decide it’s really not a goal we want. Often we might update our goal so that it has greater meaning for us.
Using the former example, by asking myself what’s driving me to:
- Operate this camera
- Lose weight
- Grow a business
I might realize the goal in and of itself isn’t important but what’s more meaningful to me is:
- Capturing the birth of my nephew
- Feeling confident
- Creating a better world
Realizing this, I could want to change my original goal from:
“Learn the functionalities of this camera right now,” to “Learn how to take indoor candid shots with this camera by next month.“
“Lose 30 pounds ASAP,” to “Get stronger and gain more energy.”
“Increase social media and marketing presence,” to “Connect with my target audience to create a better world, one person at a time.”
I don’t know about you, but if I had to choose a goal, I’d hands-down rather work on the second goal that’s more inspiring and exciting than the original goal.
There’s nothing wrong with the original goal, but through understanding the self we have the ability to get to the crux of why we want to do anything.
And reframing our goals to reflect our inner selves creates a more powerful goal that resonates with our whole being. Goals grounded in our truth gives us the natural inspiration, motivation to achieve.
Exercises Self-compassion today
If you’re interested, when you’re sensing a bit of struggle coming on – ask yourself “what do I need at this moment that I’m not getting?”
Honestly answer that question.
And like you would to a good friend, a child, or loved one – give yourself what you need.
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