Many times we think compassion is limited for the sick and the needy, and while that is very important, the reality is compassion is needed all around us and it can start first and foremost with having self- compassion.
Dr. Kristin Neff , a graduate from Berkeley, in her research and book on "self-compassion" (2015) cited how having self-compassion is related to increased well-being, motivation, happiness and connecting with others and decreased levels of anxiety and depression.
She speaks about how self-compassion, is the idea that we, along with everyone on the planet, have flaws, weaknesses, and 'failures'. It is being ok with not being perfect because nobody is perfect - no matter what their profiles on facebook or LinkedIn looks like.
Self-compassion is not 'self-pity' because self-compassion is about recognizing all of those 'icky' feelings you have with kindness, which in fact enables you to let go of them rather than keep them bottled up inside.
It's also not about being 'weak' - research is now showing us that self-compassion can be a great way to cope with life's struggles and enable us to be more resilient and bounce back after adversity.
Self-compassion is also not about giving ourselves excuses to take a 'back seat' in how we manage our lives - to recognize our struggles with kindness, enables us to feel emotionally grounded. Also, according to research, self-compassion is more powerful than blaming and shaming ourselves, because we recognize the challenges but can also recognize our strengths and how to continue to build on those in order to be our best selves.
Self-compassion is not about feeling better than others which is sometimes referred to as having a high sense of self-esteem. Although there is a lot of emphasis on having high self-esteem, the reality is this quest for being above average and standing out, if not prefaced with a healthy attitude and intention, can lead to narcissism which is not healthy and not what self-compassion is really about. On the other hand, self-compassion is this idea once again of acknowledging our inherently imperfect humanity. So while self-esteem can fluctuate, self-compassion should always be there as a base for us to go back to and say even though things aren't great now, it's okay, it happens because we are human.
Finally, self-compassion is not about being selfish, because when we can be kind and nurturing to ourselves, we can continue to care for the people we love most. Remember we cannot give what we don't have. This is especially true for women who are known to be 'givers' and 'nurturers'.
Essentially having self-compassion can lead the path for you to be more successful and more compassionate with others.
To be compassionate by recognizing and striving to alleviate one's own as well as others' struggles and challenges can take a tremendous amount of courage.
Courage to overcome the shame or blame or fears that keep us and keep others sometimes trapped in a cycle of unhappiness or inability to achieve our goals and realize our greatest dreams.
Courage to feel what it feels to be hurt, weak, betrayed, or the array of other feelings underlying suffering. Many times people are afraid of having self-compassion or compassion for others because they think it can be very emotionally taxing or draining.
The reality is being compassionate can enable you to be resilient - to bounce back after recognizing and striving to alleviate your as well as others' struggles.
I think being resilient may come from having a tremendous amount of gratitude after you've recognized your own struggles and the strength you had and have to overcome them and the struggles others encounter and how blessed we really are.
Resiliency also comes about as a result of realizing that you do have the ability to overcome your own, as well as enable others to overcome their challenges, and to rise stronger after 'falling' for some time.
Many times when we hear of compassion, some of the first meanings we think of are empathy and kindness. And while empathy and kindness are certainly aspects of compassion, there is more to this core value which is inherent to our humanity.
According to a Compassion Cultivation Training Program I participated in at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research in Education (CCARE) at Stanford University (2015), here are some important pointers on compassion:
Essentially, "compassion is to recognize and strive to alleviate one's own as well as other's suffering".
It involves having the "intention, awareness, focus, stability, and capacity to experience and show more compassion".
"Compassion is a natural capacity that is not always easy to express, and not to everyone. And We have the capacity to develop and broaden compassion."
It is a trait highly regarded in many faiths including Islam, Christianity and Judaism, as well as in spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, and in personal beliefs. Moreover, we now have scientific research which reveals that compassion was a necessary and natural part of our evolution in order for us to protect, connect, and collaborate with one another (Goetz, Keltner, Simon-Thomas, 2010).
In my coming posts, I will be speaking more about the steps involved with fostering more self-compassion as well as compassion with others.