As the name suggests, it is compassion, towards ourselves. But, what does this mean? In our society where looking after ourselves is seen as egotistical or arrogant, it makes sense you may not want to consider being compassionate to yourself. Who wants to draw any more attention to ourselves than need be, especially if there is a negative connotation?
Our Ego, our self-view that ‘wants’ to see ourselves in a good light and project this image at all cost, wants to downplay our fears, hurts, and wounds behind the stories we make up to self-protect. In theory, this is a great strategy; however, at what cost?
Operating from the protective Ego state, it might feel good when we hear how good we are. But it is only a mask strategy to hide our fears, insecurities, and ‘less than’ thoughts we have. As one saying goes, “wolf in sheepskin”, and as discussed in the section on Ego. The Ego was created in childhood by interpreting and perceiving our worth, position in the family, and social hierarchy, which determined our value and worthiness. The Ego then had to make stories and evidence to reinforce this assessment. Was it right, or were our parents going through a tough few years corresponding to our fundamental years where we took on a negative view about ourselves? By reviewing our history with adult eyes and wisdom, different evaluations are possible. With new assessments, assessments create a different story about our life and, therefore, our self-value.
By staying in the state of Ego, we do ourselves harm. We do this by creating lies, building protective armour that hides our shadow sides, thus creating our own damsel/damson in distress state. Great for the success of our Hero Journey story, but not a pleasant state to live from. Yet, we also hold ourselves back from reaching our fullest potential, like an anchor keeping a boat in place and not moving, even if the motor is at full speed. There is a constant drag or holding action.
Ego in summary
- Builds our self-image with external evidence. The car, house, perfect partner, perfect kids, etc., it is not acceptable to feel or be seen less than.
- Creates alienation from others, opportunities, etc., for fear of inadequacy, finally being found out. Imposter syndrome, narcissism. Putting others down to build ourselves up. Self-protective armour, and walls through self-absorption, self-righteous behaviour; dominating and segregating behaviour and attitudes such as prejudices, discrimination superiority
- Projects our view onto others, blaming our misfortunes on others, and not addressing our gaps in skill, knowledge, and self-love.
- The armour and walls narrow our self-view. We can not easily and clearly see into the parts of ourselves or others until we dismantle the protective barriers or walk behind the protective armour.
- We create an addictive spiral of a victim and self-deprivation. Secondary gains are justifying staying in the pattern and not taking authorship over our own life. Self-judgement creates an initial high, showing and talking about our greatness, but when this wears off, we drop into despair > shame > lose faith in ourselves > doubting potential > helplessness. Then we start at the process again.
Self-compassion, though, is not a self-conceited practice, quite the opposite, really. As Sharon Salzberg is quoted in the book Self Compassion, stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind by Kristin Neff[i] (2011)
“Loving ourselves points us to capacities of resilience, compassion and understanding within that are simply part of being alive” pg 3
Practising self-compassion for it is practice until we relearn and allow ourselves to be human, not perfect. With proficiency in the art, not only do we accept ourselves more, we create a safe place for our wounded, scared self to heal. We also open ourselves to positive relationships. Opening into a soft, compassionate heart enables one to see beyond the hurt, armour, projections, and situations of another and see the Love at their core. We recognise our vulnerability to life’s struggles through another’s experiences. The Namaste of connection. For only when we have learnt the lesson of ‘Do unto others as we do to ourselves/ do unto ourselves as we would do to others’ do we go beyond Ego and live from the place of connection, aliveness, and Love with more ease and Grace.
Consider the times you felt compassion for another. At a guess, it was the times you saw the other struggling, but doing the best they could, all things considered. They showed up, giving what they could, however small it was. You saw their pain, the challenge, and knew the only way through it was for them to take ownership of the situation, and that was an even more significant challenge. It is when you are grateful, with humbleness, you are not experiencing what they are going through, and you extend to them the Love and support as possible.
It is when you hold space for another to be vulnerable, raw, and honest with you. You can appreciate the risk they are taking by exposing themselves to you. You recognise the sacredness of this act, opening your heart all the more with compassion and connection you feel their rawness as your own.
The art of self-compassion is to provide ourselves with the same Grace, space, and Love for others.
We take courage and fight our dragons, fight through the choking Ego vines grown over the fortress walls around our heart. We take our soft, vulnerable self to the damsel/damson in distress, who wants to connect and be part of the world, yet to leave the fortress or the armour behind feels insurmountable. Almost as if they were to leave, the safety of their place would be cutting their umbilical cord to their Ego’s life, supporting praise and safety. Put yourself in this position for a bit. Does it feel even the slightest familiar?
The risk we are asking ourselves to take is to take full responsibility for our thoughts, actions, and consequences. To make connections and be ‘seen’ for who we are. Yet, most seem to see a good side of us until our scared self is triggered, and we run back into the fortress and put the armour on again. As one ventures beyond the fortress, the idea or possibility of being liked or accepted by another seems impossible. Because their focus has been on the lies of being less than and not worthy of being human with flaws, insecurities or inadequacies. They expect themselves to be perfect or live up to the Demi-God view of adults they created as infants.
They struggle to see how they could walk through life by trial and error. The acceptability to celebrate one’s wins, make judgement errors, stumble, learn more and get up for another go and only to stumble again. Let alone be vulnerable and let another into our dungeon of fears and insecurities, asking them to help transform this pit into a beautiful pleasure den of healthy self-confidence.
How do we cultivate Self-Compassion? With a gentle hand.
This book doesn’t have the scope to ‘teach’ self-compassion. Many of the activities provided do open the way to the principles of self-compassion. As you continue to move through the book, practice Awareness and Mindfulness, return to Forgiveness Prayer and say it to your struggling parts. Collect positive evidence and celebrate, with gratitude, even the most minor wins of you stepping out of the fortress or loosening a piece of your armour, even for a short space of time. You, like many others, can do this too.
It takes self-compassion, Love, celebration, and calling on your self-esteem at times to talk yourself up, remind yourself of your greatness, equality to others, and worthiness. You, too, are allowed to screw up and still live. If others can do this, then it is possible for you too.
It likely demands you to ask a professional to create a safe place and guidance to support you. At the same time, explore new possibilities that seem too foreign and scary. A way of viewing this process is the Hero Journey Quest, which I love the analogue so much. It is easier to see a part of us being the hero fighting off the demons, the rogue clans, and tribes that want to take us down. But we are on a mission to rescue ourselves that damsel/damson stuck behind the tower, similar to Rapunzel.
No journey quest is without the challenges, detours, and informants that set up traps and force us to prove our worthiness of the task. The need to ask for help, often from strangers, may or may not have our best in mind. We may flirt with the barmaid/man, the king, the pauper, get ourselves in scrapes and close calls. But still, the hero of the journey gets up the next day determined still to get to the elusive fortress and overcome the obstacles.
Self-compassion is a core element towards self-actualisation. When we can see ourselves in our true grandness as Love layered with protective layers, we have achieved one of life’s elusive gifts. Seeing ourselves in our Holy state.
Let us consider what self-compassion is.
According to Kristen Neff in her book, self-compassion:
- Involves wanting health and well-being for oneself and leads to proactive behaviour to better one’s situation, rather than passivity.
- I think my problems are also important and worthy of being attended to.
- You can use suffering to soften your heart. Letting go of the unrealistic expectation of perfection that makes you dissatisfied.
- Open the door to real and lasting satisfaction
- Give yourself compassion, as you would towards another in a similar moment.
- It is a powerful way to create emotional well-being and contentment in our lives.
- We embrace the human experience for what it is, a human journey.
- Fosters positive mind states such as happiness and optimism.
- Allows us to flourish, to appreciate the beauty and richness of life, even in challenging times.
- It is easier to see what’s right and wrong based on our values and alignment to create a joyous, fulfilling life.
- Creates a calmness, and refuge from the challenges of our Ego’s endless labelling of everything we think, feel and do.
- We create and encourage our own safe haven, providing ourselves with the opportunity to heal our attachment style back into the secure style and live a life of fulfilment.
Self-compassion then is a core character trait to strive to cultivate. In a world where anything about ourselves has developed a negative connotation, let self-compassion stay pure. A state of being we extend to ourselves to give to others with the least resistance possible. See the equality in everyone. We are all doing the best we can, with the resources we have at the time, which can improve with new insights and practising these towards wisdom.
[i] Neff, K. (2011) Self Compassion stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. Hodder & Stoughton: London