When it comes to extending compassion toward others, it’s as if my innate purpose in this lifetime is defined and ignited. I experience a sense of purpose and direction knowing that my insight, wisdom, advice, encouragement, and actions can help others. I don’t offer an open ear a helping hand with a hidden agenda in mind, or an expectation of some form of “payment” in return. I help others because it brings a warming light into my soul, radiating into my deepest, most intimate sense of self.
As I do all I possibly can to assist others with my words and actions, there are times where I find myself simmering on the back-burner of my life, placing my own personal needs secondary to the needs of others. It’s a slower simmer–one that doesn’t whistle, doesn’t bubble over, and doesn’t draw very much attention. However, it’s a simmer, and we all know what happens when something simmers for too long: It begins to boil. And boiling can lead to burns, spills, and other messes that can make a significant impact on the grand scheme of things.
Despite taking time to work toward the life I want for myself, I still find myself seeking out any opportunity to help others. It’s just how I am; I am an empathetic, compassionate person. However, what I’ve learned over these past few months is that my compassionate attitudes aren’t only meant to be shared with others–they’re also meant to be shared with myself. I wouldn’t say to someone I care about that I thought he was a failure, or that she wasn’t good enough, yet these are daily dialogues I have with myself. How on earth am I–a compassionate, empathetic human being–allowing myself to treat myself with such a lack of compassion?
When I began my effort to change this critical, compassionless dialogue, I noticed just how harsh I was being on myself. I criticized and judged my mind and its thought processes, my eating habits, and the shape of my body; I compared myself to fitness gurus on Instagram, my peers in college, my friends, and my family members; I punished myself for having negative thoughts and feelings, for making mistakes, and when I felt that I disappointed someone. I was in a shame-cycle that felt inescapable, dark, engrained, and predictable. These are things I would never think, say, or do to someone I cared about, so why was I engaging in such a critical stance toward myself? I wracked my brain with this question over and over and over again.
At the end of a particularly mentally-draining day, I decided that I was going to write down all of these thoughts and feelings I was having toward myself. As I re-read each statement, I challenged myself to give myself some space between these thoughts–to simply notice the thoughts and feelings without binding myself to them, declaring them as all-true or absolute fact. It was on this particular night that I took the first step toward extending compassion to myself. I countered each thought, “checking the facts” of the situation by recognizing the myths and distortions behind each negative thought I jotted down. As I gave myself space from these negative self-beliefs, I began to have more room for compassionate thoughts regarding all of the hard work I had accomplished that day, the hurdles I mounted, and the progress I’d accumulated over the past few weeks.
It hasn’t been easy to give myself this space, especially on the days that I feel both physically and mentally drained. However, those days are actually the most important days to tap into my compassionate attitudes and offer some to myself. No one is perfect–despite how much we strive for this unrealistic ideal–and there are still days where my shame-cycle feels all too familiar and encompassing. I still slip up here and there, falling victim to comparison, shame, self-doubt, and negativity. Self-compassion takes practice, and that practice isn’t always instantly fruitful. It’s certainly not linear, and it doesn’t happen overnight, either. It takes a great deal of time, effort, and patience. Who would’ve thought that offering ourselves compassion and grace would feel so foreign and so difficult, especially when we can so easily translate it outward to others?
As I’ve put work into practicing adopting a more compassionate stance with myself, I’ve noticed that I’m better able to be authentic when helping others. I don’t feel as drained, strained, or pressured. I truly feel that I am living in line with the insight, wisdom, and advice that I offer so willingly to others, working through each day and offering that same insight, wisdom, and advice to myself. I feel that I’m allowed to make mistakes, to accept (remember, acceptance does not equate to approval) my flaws, and to express my authentic, sensitive self. As each day is spent embracing the practice of self-compassion, I prove to myself that I am capable of offering compassion to others while simultaneously offering that very same compassion to myself. The currency is the same, and I can now see the value in investing time into helping myself. As I continue to remind myself of this very fact, I realize that I don’t need to settle for simmering, on the verge of boiling over. I can move myself to the front burner, right next to those I care about, and extend the same genuine, empathetic compassion to both.