(Photo: Bart Larue)
How Self Compassion Affects Us and Others
For some reason, I’ve been feeling compelled to discuss self compassion. I think it’s because I hear the lack of it so often in daily life! So, using some real life examples I’ve experienced, I’d like to explore how self compassion affects you and others around you.
About a month ago, one of my children started university. After the initial excitement wore off, it was time to get down to work. That’s when she began saying things like “It takes me so long to finish an assignment. I’m too slow. I’m too stupid. I can’t keep up. It was a mistake they let me in.”
Another time, I met a colleague for a meeting. She had just come out of a previous meeting and seemed a little rushed. But she said she was fine. She didn’t want to waste any time so let’s jump right in. Yet as our conversation went on, she was finding it hard to stay present and lost her train of thought, causing her to become more flustered and embarrassed.
There was also a time I coached someone who had thoughts going round in her mind like “I’m not good enough, interesting enough, skilled enough, brave enough” to quit her job and become an entrepreneur. All the self criticisms and judgements were causing fear and confusion, making her unable to take any action.
When I notice examples like this, I think to myself “I wish they could see how hard they’re being on themselves! If only they understood this doesn’t make them perform better…”
But self compassion isn’t something I tell you to do and you go, “Okay sure!” and do it. If it were that easy, everyone would be practicing self compassion and the world would be a less stressful place!
Why is it hard to practice self compassion?
(Photo: Ketut Subiyanto)
Why is it so hard? To answer this question, I thought about my own journey.
Back in my pre-healing days, I simply couldn’t accept the idea of self compassion. Because if I were compassionate and kind to myself, it meant I forgave myself. For all the mistakes I made and all the faults in my character. If I gave myself a pass, I would get lazy or forget and screw up again. So I had to continue “punishing” myself until I learned my lesson.
I feel pity for my former self! But back then, I was completely ok with that. Then I got married and had children.
When my first child caused “problems” – like spilling a bottle of oil all over the kitchen floor, or hysterically crying non stop because she didn’t want to go home from the park – seeing the way I scolded her, I was alarmed by my own behavior. She was only a year old.
One more child and a few years later, I lost my temper over something I can’t even remember. In anger, I smashed the car remote key on the floor in front of my kids, causing it to shatter into pieces, while shouting at my husband. I still remember the kids’ shock and my husband’s silence.
You can't pour from an empty cup
It took me a few more years of learning how to forgive myself before I finally understood the meaning of the phrase, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
When my own cup was empty, it was impossible to give kindness and compassion to my husband and children. It just didn’t happen. My bandwidth for dealing with the messiness of family life (figuratively and literally) was super narrow and my tolerance for stress was very, very low. My family suffered a lot from the way I was being. Only when I could forgive, accept and be kind to myself could I be more forgiving, accepting and kind to them.
So if you’re in a similar place, I understand why it might be hard for you to practice self compassion… But that’s why I would encourage you to, for your own sake and your loved ones.
Because YOU matter.
What it looks like when you don't have enough self compassion
(Photo: Ron Lach)
This reminds me of another thought I held back then. “Self compassion? Pfft! That’s so self indulgent! You don’t need a full cup to have compassion for others. If you can’t be compassionate, well that means you don’t care enough about people.”
So if it was pre-healed me (i.e., low on self compassion), the examples I mentioned earlier would have looked like the below.
My daughter’s negative remarks would have touched a nerve. I would have started feeling anxious, irritated, and ashamed, because it would have reminded me of how I was at her age. Then I’d have gotten snappy with her and said, “You’re just being over-negative and pessimistic! Snap out of it!”
My colleague’s flustered feelings would have affected me, too. Even if I wasn’t rushed myself, I’d start feeling as if I was and we might have had a “meh” conversation. Afterward, I would have felt frustrated that I got so caught up in her energy and might have even thought *she* made me feel that way.
My client’s confusion, fear and overwhelm would have overpowered me, because those were thoughts and feelings I shared myself. I would have lost sight of the purpose of the conversation and just commiserated with her. Then my client would have ended the session without a satisfying outcome. I would have become depressed for being such an ineffective coach.
What it looks like when you do
(Photo: MHA Mental Health America)
Thanks to the fuller cup I have now, I was able to do the following instead!
With my daughter, I couldn’t say anything constructive because she wasn’t willing to hear it. So I just listened. Even though I had a lot of opinions, I accepted what she was saying without reacting. After a few days, she got out of her mood and came back to her usual self.
Noticing that my colleague was in a rushed state, I maintained my energy in the hope that it might help her calm down (a technique called entrainment). While she didn’t get out of her state entirely, she gained enough space to notice that perhaps she could cut herself some slack.
With my coaching client, we took a deeper dive into the negative thoughts and discovered that they had roots in childhood. She saw how certain events led to the creation of beliefs she had today and had a very emotional reaction when she made that connection. While she processed her emotions, I waited quietly. Afterward, she noticed that she felt a lot clearer in her mind and saw what she had to focus on next.
The benefits of self compassion
What did the above 3 scenarios have in common? Not getting affected by what the other person was expressing. Thanks to self compassion, my cup was full enough so that I could stay grounded, keep the focus on the other person, and not get caught up in my own reactions.
Indeed, research has shown that practicing self compassion decreases stress, depression, burnout (including empathic burnout), and comparing oneself to others. It also increases wellbeing, gratitude, coping skills, resilience, motivation, and care and concern for others.
Having a full cup has many benefits for you and others around you😊
When you experience big emotions
As you go deeper into practicing self compassion, you might remember experiences that are really painful. Like people who said or did hurtful things to you. Actions you deeply regretted later. Strong emotions could surface, like sadness, depression, despair, regret, shame, anger, jealousy, fear, or panic.
Pioneer self compassion researcher Dr. Kristin Neff calls this “backdraft”. She says this is a natural process of healing transformation. She also adds, it’s our reaction to it that makes it feel worse! But if you want to get past the backdraft, you’ll need to summon the courage to go through those emotions.
The way to do this is to hold a compassionate space for yourself and process those emotions fully. Grieve, vent, write a letter… whatever you need to do to expend that energy. Emotions will dissipate when energy is released, just like letting the steam out of a pressure cooker reduces the pressure in the pot.
When you can go from “Why”, “I/he/she/they should…” and “If only…” to “I wish it didn’t happen, but I accept that I/he/she/they didn’t know any better at the time”, it’s a sign your equanimity is growing. You’re on your way towards filling your cup.
I hope this exploration of self compassion gave you some ideas of how self compassion affects us and what could change when you have more self compassion in your life! It doesn’t just help yourself, it helps all the people you interact with.
If this is something you’re facing now and would like to discuss this further, please feel free to send me a message. I would be more than happy to support you!
Self compassion has the potential to change the world in a ripple effect… so may you become the change you wish to see♡