Developing Self-Compassion & Learning to Be Nicer to Ourselves
“Be gentle first with yourself if you wish to be gentle with others.” ~Lama Yeshe
Several months ago, I sat in a large workshop audience being led by Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research.
She directed us to divide up into pairs for a self-compassion exercise. I turned to the young woman next to me. We introduced ourselves and returned our attention to Kristin.
Following her instructions, my partner closed her eyes while I sat looking at her. Kristin led those of us with open eyes through a loving-kindness meditation that was directed at our partners.
Although I did not know this young woman, I could feel my heart open wide to her as compassion arose within me. I felt warm and loving toward her.
Then it was my turn to sit with closed eyes. As Kristin repeated the meditation and I felt my partner’s loving gaze on me, I started to hear a voice.
Not a psychotic one, mind you, but that familiar voice that so often takes up my internal space. It had started chatting quietly but zoomed to full volume within seconds.
“You don’t deserve compassion! You don’t make enough money! You snap at Andrea all the time! You just need to get yourself under control!”
Sigh. So much for self-compassion.
But that was the point.
After the exercise, Dr. Neff asked, “How many of you found it harder to feel compassion toward yourself than the stranger sitting next to you?”
Just about everyone in that huge group—including me—raised their hands.
What is Self-Compassion Really About?
When we feel compassion for others, we feel kindness toward them, empathy, and a desire to help reduce their suffering.
It’s the same when you are compassionate toward yourself. Self-compassion creates a caring space within you that is free of judgment—a place that sees your hurt and your failures and softens to allow those experiences with kindness and caring.