When you were growing up, did you have anyone guide you through difficult situations and the emotions they cause? Did you feel like there was space for you to feel upset, angry, or sad? Did you feel seen, validated, and encouraged to express yourself? If not, then you most likely learned how to parent yourself in times of trouble. If you struggle with self-compassion, there’s a good chance you made unfair assumptions about yourself and what you need when you are in emotional pain.
On your path to self-awareness as a young person, you noticed there were things about you which received negative feedback from the people you admired. Because of your longing for total acceptance, you learned to judge these parts of your personality. Not feeling completely at home with yourself, it became easy to assume there was something wrong with you. This can be anything from the way you talk, the way you look, or even the way you feel. We all have a need to belong, a longing to feel completely accepted. When we sense our home life will not grant this to us, it’s not uncommon to turn against ourselves for having these needs in the first place. This can create a lifelong journey of self-rejection.
This may sound overly simplistic, but I invite you to take this in: all you’ve ever truly wanted was to feel whole and completely accepted. At any moment of the day, this realization is what your psychology, your drives and impulses, are gearing you towards. The innocent and nearly universal mistake was in thinking the world had the power to allow or deny this from you. There is no love more crucial for your well-being than your own.
Not knowing this, and instead trusting more in the judgments of others than your own internal guidance, you outsourced your validation, and whenever it seemed people and situations were telling you were anything but good, you retaliated, trying to protect what you thought was at threat. You were unaware of your unassailable goodness, so acted from a place of self-doubt, which inspired behaviors sparking further self-doubt. It’s a terrible cycle that only self-compassion, not internal criticism, can free us from. The trick to abstaining from harmful behaviors is not through further self-rejection, especially when self-rejection was the genesis of those self-sabotaging behaviors in the first place.
The beginning of your journey towards self-compassion will be in communicating with this younger part of you; to be the reassuring and validating parent you needed while growing up. This will mean, when we are feeling down, to not tell ourselves we are wrong for feeling so, but to have the patient curiosity of a devoted caretaker. You will notice, when you suffer, that the greatest cause of pain is how you feel about yourself during the process. Reminding yourself of your innate goodness is the greatest gift you can offer yourself in hard times. The quality of your life will become fundamentally different when you learn to care for yourself in difficult times.
With compassion for yourself, you can learn to honor what you are feeling, knowing that there is no thought nor feeling in the world which could warrant your denial of the love that is rightfully yours. Without resistance, these emotions no longer become stuck in your system, no longer festering and becoming so explosive you have no choice but to act from them. Negative emotions in themselves are not suffering. We suffer when we internally resist our experiences and insist they shouldn’t be happening.
Please remember, you can only hold yourself with compassion now. If you struggle with self-compassion, you most likely have a perfectionistic idea of how you’re supposed to be in order to be loved. Self-compassion is reminding yourself that you deserved to be loved now, as you are. At any moment, you can pause, relax your efforts, and listen to yourself from a place of compassion, which is to say, without judgment. “I see you, I hear you”, is a wonderful mantra to practice. There’s no one else you need to be. Just in being alive, you are enough. You were born with the right to be loved, you do not need to earn it. This is the greatest paradox to being human. You’ve always had the love that you’ve been seeking.
Within the word ‘compassion’ you’ll find ‘compass’. I cannot think of a better guide than compassion to direct you back home to yourself.
-Justin Fink, LPC