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Bloom Where You Are: Flex Your Self Compassion Muscle

Posted Mandy Murphy on 9/22/2015 |

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Why is being compassionate with ourselves so challenging? I often hear from people in the small group or individual work I have done something along the lines: “It is so easy for me to have compassion and be kind to others, but I rarely ever am able to treat myself with compassion and kindness.” I have been thinking a lot about self-compassion and paying close attention to how it plays out in real life. Here is what I have learned.

Being compassionate with oneself is challenging for a variety of reasons:

We have become oddly conditioned and comfortable with messages of not enough. Our culture of scarcity and “never enough” works in conjunction with our inner message of the many ways that we don’t stack up. The combination of these external and internal messages result in a powerful concoction – it is like an IV potion of never enough. The potion is quietly and subtly seeping into our existence and we become unconsciously addicted to the point that we do not even notice the harsh messages we experience daily.

The times when we need the most self-compassion are the times when the “not enough” messages become so strong and powerful. This makes it hard for the voice of compassion to even compete.

We confuse being kind with ourselves with being weak, too soft or letting ourselves “off the hook” too easily. Somehow, we have come to believe that by mentally beating ourselves up or push, push, pushing ourselves is going to (somehow, someday) land us beyond some nebulous marker of success. Not to say that being driven or staying focused on a goal is bad, it’s just a reminder that there are many ways to get to that goal and that it is important to work with yourself to get there, not to beat yourself down the path to get there.

We forget the importance of being kind with ourselves. In our fast paced culture, we rarely slow down enough (much less slow our minds down long enough) to ask -- genuinely ask—ourselves: what is most needed right now? Practicing self-compassion is a just that – a PRACTICE and we have to strengthen that self-compassion muscle enough so that it has a presence in our lives as we navigate the busy-ness. With strength, this muscle will begin to flex itself and be available when kindness to self is most needed.

To dive deeper into self-compassion, I turned to three of my most favored, wise teachers to explore their thoughts on self-compassion.

Tara Brach, meditation teacher, author and clinical psychologist, says, “We often distance ourselves from emotional pain—our vulnerability, anger, jealousy, fear—by covering it over with self-judgment. Yet, when we push away parts of ourselves, we only dig ourselves deeper into the trance of unworthiness. Whenever we’re trapped in self-judgment, our first and wisest step towards freedom is to develop compassion for ourselves.

Buddhist teacher, author, nun and mother, Pema Chodron explains, “Compassion isn’t some kind of self-improvement project or ideal that we are trying to live up to. Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all of those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections that we don’t even want to look at.”

Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work who has spent the past thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame holds self-compassion as a key ingredient for living an authentic and joyful life. She explains that having self-compassion has profound effects both internally and externally. Even showing compassion to others can't actually be achieved unless you have compassion for yourself. Furthermore, Brown has adopted Kristen Neff’s work on self-compassion and offer three tenants of this practice:

  • Self-Kindness: Be as kind to ourselves as we know to be to others.
  • Common Humanity: Connecting to broader experience of humans; we are not alone in our experiences and feelings.
  • Mindfulness: cultivated a deep inner listening to ourselves to hear truth and wisdom from within; quieting the noise of the mind to hear the song of the heart. 

So now what? Well, I wish my reflections produced a magic solution where “poof” – we are all compassionate with ourselves! But we all know, nothing that good comes that easy. What I am able to offer though is encouragement to begin to pay attention to the messages of “not enough” that flow in and out of your experience. I will also offer out the suggestion to cultivate a willingness to see ALL of yourself, including the imperfect parts that we shy away from. As you pay more attention to these quiet little gremlins, practice distancing yourself from their power (aka, don’t get emotionally swept aware into not enough land) and instead start finding ways to be kind to yourself – both in how you respond to these messages mentally and physically. Lastly, adopt self-compassion as a practice and flex that muscle whenever possible.

Click here for self-compassion guided meditations and exercises.

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