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Self-compassion - a skill in short supply for most people

When I talk to many people in a counselling session or in a general conversation, one thing that strikes me often is the total lack of self-compassion in people.

We are often very understanding of others around us. We comfort people when they have gone through failures, suffered injustice, been at the receiving end of bias and unfairness. We help them to understand the world can be harsh and they should not be blaming themselves for all that happened. But when it comes to our own lives, we are extremely harsh. We believe we should have known what was going to happen (hindsight bias), we believe we should have prepared harder, we believe we are not good enough.

Self-compassion is not taught to us. On the contrary, we are led to believe that self-compassion is an indulgence and we are pampering ourselves. Okay, we are pampering ourselves, so why is that wrong. Why is it that we can pamper others but not ourselves? People under the wrong notion that self-compassion will lead to us being floppy in our work, will allow us to accept lower standards and not pursue our goals. This is far from the truth. There are times needed for recovery from the setback and then there are times for doing the work.

When others are going through hard times or are having emotional high moments, we need to be empathetic with them. Our advice, moralizing, lecturing can wait. Even if there is a lesson to be learned from the adverse event, the teaching of that lesson has to await a better time. At that crucial juncture what the other person needs is understanding and empathy. This some of us do understand very well.

But we don’t apply it to ourselves. When we are going through hard times or emotionally draining times, why can’t we be empathetic to ourselves? Why can’t we pause before we start criticizing ourselves? Why can’t we give it a break from punishing ourselves? There is a time for drawing lessons which can come later.

The world is tough. It is not meant to fulfil your desires. It is not designed to give all that you ask. Often our years of work can go to waste. Work in building an organization or building a relationship. In Spite of our best efforts, we may not get the desired results. Despite trying for something repeatedly we may come out empty-handed. While only the efforts and following a process is in our hands, the results are not. Success and failures have got too many contributing factors other than our effort.

It is vital that we learn to be compassionate with ourselves too. Be gentle on yourselves, Be kind to yourselves. Don’t be so hard on yourself in hard times. We may or not receive compassion from others around us, but we should learn to be self-compassionate at such times. That is essential for us to bounce back.

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