Discovering the Power of Self-Compassion
By Thea Fitch.
Do you feel uncomfortable or self indulgent when you do things for yourself, like you don’t deserve it?
Do you ever feel cut off from others, as if other people are somehow better able to cope with life’s difficulties?
Do you tend to criticize and judge yourself more harshly than you would others?
Do you concentrate more on your strengths and failures, rather than your strengths and successes?
Well, I certainly did! I struggled with a severe eating disorder, requiring several hospitalisations, for many years. Yet it was only through reaching “rock bottom”, and having nowhere else to go, that I was able to give myself permission to try a different approach – one based on treating myself with the same kindness that I would hope to show to others.
Because of past experiences, and the very self-critical voice that I used to orientate myself in the world, I was constantly creating a self-image that was very negative. I lacked any notion of my worth as a human being with good intentions. This meant that I kept myself very isolated from people - I had so effectively convinced myself that I was “not good enough” or “different” from others in some way that I became the essence of aloneness.
Self compassion, in particular the element of common humanity (and connectedness rather than separateness) gave me the release from this destructive relational thinking. I was able to try at least to treat myself as I would a friend, and to bridge the gap between myself and the people around me – their actions stopped feeling threatening, and started to feel caring and supportive. I developed a sense of connection to others through a connection to myself.
While striving to develop our talents and abilities to the fullest is desirable, a drive for perfection is one of the greatest obstacles to self-compassion, and is ultimately unachievable. Through self-compassion, I have accepted that I am not meant nor expected to be perfect. I know that developing an understanding of how to treat myself with more caring, concern, kindness - and an acknowledgement of when and why it is sometimes so difficult - has improved my life. I am more hopeful, more in control and empowered to manage my physical and emotional wellbeing. This has opened up the possibility of facing opportunities in life from a place of more wisdom.
The journey has been a long one, starting when I first stepped onto a yoga mat, and now involves daily time on my meditation cushion. It is a journey that will continue to support me on my path with gratitude and a more compassionate and forgiving attitude, towards myself as well as towards others.
This journey has not always been easy. At times I am so immersed in the harsh self judgements that I am not able to separate myself from the thoughts and feelings, and they become my truth – for a moment. Developing the habit of a daily meditation and yoga practice - through persistent perseverance - means that I am much more quickly able to notice those moments when I am adding to my suffering. I am able to see when I am resisting or fighting the emotions that I do not want to be feeling, and therefore forgetting to acknowledge the difficulty of what I am experiencing. With mindful awareness of the times that I am struggling, I am able to gently remind myself that it will pass, that I am not alone in feeling this way, and that I have techniques to soothe myself.
Key for me was to remember that self-compassion is a better motivator for personal progress than any negative reinforcement or judgement of “what I should have done, or should have been…” could ever be.
Mindfulness and self-compassion – it is no exaggeration to say that it has saved me. Mindfulness has helped me to become aware of what emotions I am feeling, without judging them, and to listen to what my body is teaching me. With this self-awareness I can respond to challenges, rather than react. And I can focus my attention on things like my breath in order to cultivate some peace and stillness.
Mindful self-compassion has stopped the self-referential, often critical and harsh thinking. I have been able to get out of my own way, and flow with what is…
From 20 years of institutionalization within eating disorders units I am happier, more trusting, more engaged, more compassionate, more alive and excited for the future. My belief in the gift and power of Mindful Self Compassion - having seen it first hand in myself, and in the many students that I have had the pleasure to share the journey with, is a constant inspiration and joy.
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