what is self-compassion?

I was recently having a discussion with a small group of friends and the term ‘self-compassion’ came up.  One member of the group was unfamiliar with this word which made me wonder how many others are in the same situation?  It’s a fairly self-explanatory concept, and one that’s very common in my field of work, but perhaps it’s incorrect for me to assume that it’s part of everyone’s vocabulary.  And if you haven’t come across it in any specific sense, is it something that you would consciously apply in your life?  I therefore thought that I would post something to make self-compassion more explicit and also maybe to say what my thoughts are on what it is, and what it is not.

To start with, I thought I’d look at some definitions.  Compassion itself can be defined as:

“a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them”

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/compassion

Synonyms: pity, sympathy, feeling, fellow feeling, empathy, understanding, concern, solicitude, sensitivity, warmth, gentleness, tenderness, consideration, kindness

According to vocabulary.com Compassion “is a word for a very positive emotion that has to do with being thoughtful and decent… When you feel compassion for someone, you really want to help out.” https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/compassion

The literal meaning of compassion is “to suffer together”. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/compassion/definition  Its qualities are “patience and wisdom; kindness and perseverance; warmth and resolve.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compassion

Self-compassion then, is when we show these feelings towards ourselves.  If we’re experiencing feelings of inadequacy, failure or suffering of any kind, instead of being critical of ourselves – a very common response – we can choose to be warm, understanding, sensitive, gentle, considerate and kind.

So why, you might ask, would we want to do this, and isn’t it a form of selfishness and self-indulgence?  If I’ve done something wrong / foolish, don’t I deserve to feel guilty / stupid?

Well, firstly I would say that if any – even small – part of you resonated with that last sentence, I would like to gently invite you to notice your self-talk.  Using labels like ‘wrong’, ‘foolish’ and ‘stupid’, I believe, is unhelpful.  They put us into a state of shame which is deeply uncomfortable and only adds to our emotional suffering at a time when we’re already feeling pretty lousy.

I also think that there is very little to be gained from feeling guilty, other than to notice the emotion and to learn from it, by which I mean to observe the discomfort and to explore what triggered it and what wisdom that holds for you about who you really are and the choices that you make, so that you can make choices that are more authentic for you in the future.  Beyond that, I feel that guilt serves only to make us feel bad, and how can we be our best selves from that place?

Image from Jennifer Petty Psychotherapist

I would also like to reassure you that self-compassion is not selfish, or self-indulgent.  It’s an important part of self-care.  I’ve written about this before https://equenergy.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/positive-thinking-is-it-always-a-good-thing-part-24/ so suffice it to say that I believe it’s necessary to take care of ourselves, and to practice self-compassion first, before we can truly offer this to others.

In fact, if we don’t do this, we can end up experiencing burnout and ‘compassion fatigue’.  This is basically when we’ve exhausted our inner resources, leaving ourselves ‘running on empty’.  This is not sustainable and can result in becoming ill and unable to function fully for a time, until we can rest and recharge.  If we’ve allowed ourselves to reach a very low point, this recovery could even take years…  so much better to learn how to look after ourselves now. 

Also, a phrase that really hit me a few years ago when I was pushing myself too hard and not taking time to replenish my resources, was:

How then do you recognise if you’re experiencing compassion fatigue?  According to goodtherapy.org the main symptoms include:

  • Chronic physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Depersonalization
  • Feelings of inequity toward the therapeutic or caregiver relationship
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of self-contempt
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Poor job satisfaction

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/compassion-fatigue

You can help to avoid this by:

  • Developing greater self-awareness, eg through journaling, mindfulness or meditation
  • Practising self-care and self-compassion
  • Setting – and holding – good emotional boundaries
  • Spending time outdoors, in nature with fresh air and natural light
  • Cultivating healthy relationships with people who boost your mood

If you would like to explore self-compassion further, please get in touch.  I offer bespoke wellbeing packages which address this, and I also run workshops helping you to develop self-awareness and learn strategies for self-support. 

(My website is currently ‘under construction’ but hopefully will be back up and running by next week)

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Learning to Dance in the Rain

I initially wrote this blog early last week, but then something happened on Thursday which prompted me to write this short edit.  A friend that I deeply respect, told me that she felt I wasn’t being honest with myself about my responsibility in the situation I find myself with Dax, and that I was placing the blame on other people.  I would therefore like to print an apology for anything I’ve said that has come across in this way.  It was not my intention. 

Regarding responsibility, this has made me think of the difference between ‘taking responsibility’ (in an empowering way that leads to action) versus ‘taking the blame’ – which is what, in hindsight, I think I was actually doing, leaving me feeling overwhelmed and generally powerless.  I have recognised that this is something I need to address and so have begun to take steps in this.  This has then enabled me to look more openly and closely at what’s been happening with Dax and to take more constructive action in this too.

And now, back to my blog:

Last week I wrote about how I’ve been learning to bend so that I don’t break.  A further step in this lesson for me is to practice being able to ‘dance in the rain’ – ie, not to wish that there were no storms in life, but rather to celebrate them, knowing that they bring valuable teaching and that even when times are tough, I can still dance and make the most of every moment.  It’s also about being able to be present with whatever is happening in the moment and to be comfortable, even with being uncomfortable.

Getting to this point takes time and practice.  We rarely manage it in any sustainable way the first time!  But, like the baby learning to take its first steps, it’s a matter of getting up, dusting ourselves off and trying again.

After all, that’s what life’s really about, isn’t it – experimenting, trying, finding out what works and what doesn’t, repeating the former and discarding the latter and continually refining and adapting.

When we make decisions and choices, we might think that we’re doing so from a purely logical, rational, analytical perspective but I’ve come to realise that there’s always an emotional element on some level.  This is true for the simplest of choices, such as what we’re going to wear on a particular day, to what’s for dinner, to what car we want to buy.  It’s even more true when we consider our responses to situations.  These are determined by our thoughts and beliefs which are strongly coloured by our past experiences and our emotional state:

In every situation, when we react rather than make a conscious choice, we are doing what we think will make us feel better / safer in that situation.  However, when our perception is coloured by fearful past experiences, these decisions will not help us to move forward.  They can end up being a form of self-sabotage.

This is why, when we want to grow, we need to become curious about what is motivating our choices.  To do this, we need to develop our ‘emotional intelligence’ in order to gain a greater understanding of what’s going on inside.  It can be a real challenge to face up to the things that we don’t like about ourselves – the things that we don’t want others to see – and to be open and honest about them.  But when we can do this with self-forgiveness and self-compassion it can be a very liberating experience!  Not only that, but it enables us to support others in developing the same skills and so allow them to find that same freedom.

Just imagine how wonderful that could feel:

  • to no longer be held by fear
  • to be free to experience the fullness of love, joy and connection
  • to be fully your self, no longer needing to wear any masks
  • to feel fully alive!

Of course, life still has its ups and downs.  It still seems to throw us curve balls to keep us on our toes!  But when we can learn to bend and to dance in the rain, we are much more able to adapt, flex and flow with these ‘plot twists’.  We have greater clarity and insight on our own responses – and after all, these are the only things we have any control over.

It was very difficult for me to face the fact that we’d lost our field shelter when it was destroyed by the recent storms.  There was the financial pain – it had cost about £4,000.00 and we can’t afford to replace it – and the thought of all the wasted time and effort that my wonderful husband had put in to building it and making it – we thought – storm safe.  Not only that, but I worried about the horses: their safety when it went over and what they were now going to do for shelter.

Then I decided to look at the situation from a different angle.  Yes, we’d lost a lot of money, but everyone was safe, and no-one had been injured, which was the most important thing. 

Obviously, we had tried to stand against the force of Nature, rather than go with it, and hadn’t realised how strong the winds could get in that part of the field.  So how might we do things differently?

I looked around at the resources that we have here.  The house is situated on a lower level than the fields and between them there is an area of ‘unused’ land – rough grasses, gorse bushes and some trees.  It had always been my plan to open this up to the horses and as I looked at it with fresh eyes, I realised that there is a lot of natural shelter there, from trees and the contours of the land. 

So now I’m looking into making this area secure so that the horses can access this natural shelter.  It will also provide them with additional, interesting places to explore.

I’ve also ordered some Willow, to see if I can create a living shelter for them.  If it’s successful it will have many benefits, including roots to further stabilise the land and drink up some of the water which makes that part of the field a quagmire in the winter.  It will provide shoots that the horses can nibble on – as long as they don’t eat until there’s nothing left!  Time will tell on that one…

This is what we hope to achieve:

If you’ve ever tried to create something like this, I’d be really interested to hear from you about how it went, and any tips that you can share!

part of the slope down to the house from the fields

If any of this has resonated with you and you’d like to learn more about developing your own emotional intelligence and resilience, and how to feel your way to the choices that are right for you, you might be interested in attending one of my workshops on how to ‘Feel Your Way from Stress into Flow’.  Contact me for further details: