The Exquisite Practice of Self-Compassion
A couple weeks ago, I sat down with my friend and fellow therapist, Andy Smith of Hoperidge Counseling. It seems each time we catch up over coffee and discuss life, therapy, music, goals, etc., I leave feeling fully inspired. Collaboration is truly something valuable as it opens the proverbial wardrobe door into a Narnia-like place; one full of ideas and possibilities unseen thus far.
With so many moving parts forging full-steam ahead, my daily experience was housed in a state of somewhat contained chaos.
I had been feeling pretty stuck at the time, and not just in a professional sense. With so many moving parts forging full-steam ahead, my daily experience was housed in a state of somewhat contained chaos. Creatively and personally I was swimming upstream. I don’t remember saying those exact words over coffee, but I am guessing my scatter-brained dialog and late arrival gave it all away. Plus, Andy’s had plenty of experience graciously observing and drawing out what’s really going on under the surface of countless clients in his work. Whatever the case was, we started in on this topic of self-compassion and man did it intrigue me.
Andy and I talked about some of the influential books we had read in the past year or so and he mentioned Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of being Kind to Yourself (purchase here), by Kristin Neff, PhD. As soon as I got home I ordered it. It was an easy sell-what with Andy’s recommendation and Brene Brown’s endorsement across the top of the front cover boasting “A transformative read”. Done…in just two days I could devour it thanks to Amazon Prime.
This book has truly proven transformative, indeed. To be honest, I’ve grown a bit tired of self-esteem. Don’t get me wrong; self-esteem is vital for maintaining a positive view of ourselves and our experience. But it can be flimsy. It doesn’t cultivate the core infrastructure needed for honest, loving relationship with self and others as well as “wholehearted living” to borrow Brene’s term. Self-esteem feels like a fad diet of cabbage soup and egg whites (you’re welcome), while self-compassion introduces a much more balanced and satisfying approach.
Neff explains, “Although thousands of articles had been written on the importance of self-esteem, researchers were now starting to point out all the traps that people can fall into when they try to get and keep a sense of high self-esteem: narcissism, self-absorption, self-righteous anger, prejudice, discrimination, and so on. I realized that self-compassion was the perfect alternative to the relentless pursuit of self-esteem. Why? Because it offers the same protection against harsh self-criticism as self-esteem, but without the need to see ourselves as perfect or as better than others.”
We can go through the motions of gazing into the mirror and repeating “you’re beautiful” thousands of times and being intentional about self-care from week to week however the deeper understanding and acceptance of our frail humanity could still easily go overlooked. Self-esteem is a piece of the puzzle, but if it does not extend from the embrace of all those glorious imperfections that mark our story, we have shown up a day late for the ball.
I love the word exquisite. I loved it even more after looking up the actual definition. Merriam Webster tells it like this:
b : marked by nice discrimination, deep sensitivity, or subtle understanding <exquisite taste>
Self-compassion is truly exquisite. Unscathed by the flashy trends of pop psychology, it is a deep, spiritual work, nuanced with an invaluable and delicate kindness. Not only this, but it requires a “subtle understanding” of our shared human experience, wrought with all kinds of success and failure.
Most of you reading this are easily moved to compassion for the loved ones in your life who suffer. Hell, you probably even experience this for countless others you don’t personally know. For example, take the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and more recently in Brussels. I’m certain you didn’t hear the news and smugly mutter under your breath, “Well, they probably deserved that injustice”. Unthinkable. My hunch is you felt deep sorrow and were tweaked with anger upon the news of these atrocities.
If we are familiar with suffering, and we all are, why is it so difficult to extend this same grace to ourselves? Our circumstances may not be as extreme or newsworthy; however, the harshness with which we treat ourselves is tragically epidemic. What if instead we sit with an observing eye of our unique experience, witnessing that very real inner struggle, and offer words of understanding and compassion?
I hope this new spring season will inspire you in your own Exquisite Practice of Self-Compassion. If you want a great place to start, take the free Self-Compassion test here!
Love & Gratitude,
As always, I value your feedback! Thoughts, feelings, and ideas are most welcome…This is meant to be a conversation starter