Reaching for Compassion

I fanned the cards so she could pull one. She inspected the variety of colors and bits of images carefully, zoomed in on one and pulled it from the deck. “The Compassion card,” I said“And that means Self Compassion.” Her eyes teared up immediately. “I’m not that good at that”, she said softly.

Gently, I said, “It’s one of those things many of us need to practice. We weren’t necessarily taught it. It’s much easier to have compassion for a small child, someone we love or even a stranger in need. But with ourselves, the harsh, critical and judgmental voice often comes out. So, the card invites you to treat yourself just as you would a dear friend – especially as you would when they have done something they feel bad or ashamed about.”

She sighed and I could feel some tightness and constrictive energy within her lift.

This wasn’t the first time I had a conversation like this with a client. Actually, I’ve had countless. Each time it moves me because I can remember how for years and years this was my own experience. I used to beat myself up for not doing or saying something ‘right’. An inner voice would berate me with so much judgment and criticism, and it left me feeling confused and inharmonious a lot of the time.

I’ve asked my clients (and myself) where this need to chastise ourselves comes from. One of the things that comes up is a belief deep down that if we don’t, we’ll stop trying or that we will become complacent. Somehow we were taught that we need to be tough on ourselves in order to achieve what we want to achieve.

And of course this isn’t true. We all know that having a supportive person (external or internal) cheering us on is a lot more pleasant and encouraging than someone who is yelling at us. Now I can hear proponents of ‘tough love’ protesting. And to those I would say that yes, sometimes we need someone to challenge us and tell us to keep going, but we never have to do that with criticism.  There is so much power when we can inspire and challenge and encourage with compassion – and in our compassion, we can be strong and willful.

With compassion, there is room for curiosity, discovery and growth. When you offer yourself compassion, you can step back and let go of the judgment. It allows you to accept parts of yourself that want to be heard. When you’ve made a ‘mistake’ or feel as if you’ve failed in an endeavor small or large, instead of condemnation, there can be an opening: “Hmmm….I find myself here again. What can I learn here to move forward? Where would I like to go from here?”

This week, you’re invited to notice what things you tell yourself about what you do, what you say and who you are being. Compare the voice you use and the messenges you send with the way you would communicate with a dear friend.

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