In my clinical practice, I work with people struggling with a wide variety of issues – depression, relationship challenges, addiction, anxiety – but what each has in common is a difficulty with compassion, not for others but for themselves. This was something I was not taught in my doctoral studies or even in the years I spent as an intern but since then I have learned that no healing can take place – emotionally, psychologically, spiritually – until my clients can develop a compassionate acceptance of themselves.
This lack of self-compassion reveals itself in the way I hear my clients describe themselves – “I was so stupid” or “I am (ugly, weird, a loser)”. It also is evident in the difficulty clients have in feeling empathy toward their younger selves – the child they once were. They struggle with the realization that they were once innocent, trusting and vulnerable and someone who was supposed to take care of them, failed to do so. Instead, they tend to blame themselves – to feel responsible for the abuses that were inflicted on them. While the reasons for this are complex – the fact remains that a major aspect of healing is the development of empathy and compassion for one’s self. It is the bedrock upon which all healing and growth will take place.
How, then, do you begin to build compassion for yourself? You start by becoming aware of the negative self-talk you live with each and every day. Take a week and note the times you tell yourself you are stupid; notice the times you feel discouraged and overwhelmed and then ask yourself “What did I just tell myself?” Was it something like “I’ll never do anything right”?
Next, find a photograph of yourself when you were very young. Look at the child you once were. If you could go back in time and sit next to that child, would you tell her that she was stupid, or dumb or ugly? Would you tell him that he can’t do anything right? Probably not. And yet that is what you are doing when you say those statements to yourself. Take a few minutes to thank your young self for doing the best he or she could do to live and survive. See if you can access some gratitude for that little child’s efforts to make sense of a confusing and difficult world.
The truth is that you are not stupid, weird or ugly. You are not a loser. You are a human being – with flaws, struggles and challenges. The Bible says the “truth shall set you free”. By embracing the truth about yourself you will be moving closer toward becoming the person you were created to be. Through self-compassion, you will actually be able to be more empathic and compassionate toward others. The healing you give to yourself will ripple forth to bless those around you – such is the healing power of compassion.