How to do self-compassion
Let me start from the beginning:
- Authentic Purpose is who you naturally are and what you naturally do when nothing gets in the way of it.
- Therefore, the secret to “finding” purpose is to remove all barriers to it.
- The primary barrier of purpose is fear.
- People are afraid to live their purpose because of limiting beliefs about themselves.
- They develop these limiting beliefs from childhood wounds.
- All our childhood wounds come down to what I call the “not enough wound” — a deep, fundamental sense of brokenness, inadequacy, unworthiness. “Something is wrong with me.”
- The only way to live your purpose is to heal your not enough wound, from which springs your fears, limiting beliefs, addictions, and distractions.
- The secret to healing your not enough wound is simply this: self-compassion.
- Therefore, the single most important skill to master, which will impact your ability to find and live your purpose more than anything else, is self-compassion.
I offer free, hour-long coaching calls. I’ve done them with hundreds of people over the past few years. I’ve taken most of them through the sequence above.
Invariably, the question is, “Okay. I get it. But how do I do self-compassion?”
Here’s my answer:
1. Understand the definition of compassion
The word passion means “to suffer,” or “sacred suffering.” The prefix “com” means “with.” Compassion, therefore, means “to suffer with.”
Self-compassion, therefore means to see ourselves in our suffering, and just be with the suffering, without trying to change or fix it. It’s holding ourselves in a warm and open-hearted embrace, feeling the suffering, grieving for it, supporting ourselves in it.
This is in contrast to self-shame — the voice of the inner critic that constantly beats us up, throws our past mistakes in our faces, hisses thoughts of unworthiness and hopelessness. “You’ll never get it right. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be enough. You’ve always been a loser and you always will be.”
Self-compassion is a voice of deep care and concern, non-judgment, and kindness.
2. See your buried pain
Underneath everything we hate most about ourselves — our shameful secrets, our worst deeds, our addictions, our pride, anger, lust, greed, jealousy — is not a corrupt nature, but rather unmet needs. We’re not unworthy — we’re hurting!
We’re born into this world whole, good, perfect, beautiful. Over time, we get wounded, both physically and emotionally. Lacking the cognitive capacity to deal with the constant pain of our emotional wounds, we start creating defense mechanisms to bury it.
These take the form of all the things we hate about ourselves and all our limitations.
We numb our pain in distractions and addictions.
We take things personally and react defensively.
We view the world as a battleground and constantly pick fights.
We cower in our comfort zone.
Along with the pain of our emotional wounds, these defensive patterns of behavior become lodged deep into our subconscious minds. To change the limiting defensive behaviors, we have to heal the underlying wounds that created them.
This is all to say: To stop the voice of self-shame, go deeper than your behaviors and see your suffering. See all the deep hurt you suffered as a child that created your behaviors as an adult.
Take it as a given that underneath everything you feel compelled to hide or change is simply unhealed pain.
3. Give your inner child what s/he needs
When we got hurt as a child, all we had were emotions without the cognitive capacity to process them logically. So every time someone hurt us, we felt lost, confused, betrayed, lonely.
We needed someone to hold us tenderly, wipe away our tears, help us to understand, envelop us with unconditional love. When that didn’t happen, we started creating the defensive shell of our false self to cover our tender spot.
Every time we get emotionally triggered as an adult, we’re reacting to something that is touching our original wounds.
For example, one of my deepest wounds from my childhood, as number eleven of thirteen children, is the feeling of being misunderstood. To this day, at the age of forty-one, it’s deeply painful to me when I’m misunderstood, and I often react angrily when it happens.
The common response to our triggered behaviors is shame. “You screwed up yet again. Why are you so stupid?”
But underneath all those triggers is a lost, confused, hurting child.
Shame is the equivalent of seeing that child crying, locking him in a closet, and yelling, “Stop crying, you baby!” Shame adds insult to injury.
Self-compassion means getting down on our knees, embracing that child, and giving him what he always needed. He needed to feel safe, comforted accepted, seen, and valued. She needed to know that she was loved no matter what.
Self-compassion is the act of healing our inner child. It means to give to ourselves as adults what we always needed but never received as children.
The wounded inner child will always act up and act out until it is seen, acknowledged, and cared for with self-compassion. Shame does nothing but deepen his hurt and make him even more desperate to be seen.
4. “Dear one, I am here for you.”
In his book, You are Here, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh teaches a beautiful phrase:
“If you feel irritation or depression or despair, recognize their presence and practice this mantra: ‘Dear one, I am here for you.’
“You should talk to your depression or your anger just as you would to a child. You embrace it tenderly…and say, ‘Dear one, I know you are there, and I am going to take care of you,’ just as you would with your crying baby…”
This phrase is the best technique I know to cultivate self-compassion.
Every time you “screw up,” every time you feel embarrassed or ashamed, every time you give in to a temptation or cave to an addiction, every time you react angrily, remember this phrase: “Dear one, I am here for you.”
Dig deeper than your behavior to find the original childhood wound causing it. See that hurting child. Get down on your knees and embrace him and say, “Dear one, I am here for you.”
Transform yourself with self-compassion
The more compassion, comfort, support, and love you give yourself, the more your inner child is healed. And the more healed she becomes, the less she acts out in the form of defensive or numbing behaviors.
Self-compassion isn’t about justifying or excusing your behavior. It’s about understanding your behavior so that you’re empowered to change it. As self-compassion researcher Dr. Kristen Neff says in her book, Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself,
“Self-compassion is not the same as being easy on ourselves. It’s a way of nurturing ourselves so that we can reach our full potential.”
Mindfulness teacher Tara Brach adds in her book Radical Acceptance,
“Feeling compassion for ourselves in no way releases us from responsibility for our actions. Rather, it releases us from the self-hatred that prevents us from responding to our life with clarity and balance.”
Dr. Neff’s research shows that, as contrasted with self-critical people, self-compassionate people:
- feel greater motivation to make amends and avoid repeating moral transgressions.
- are more motivated to improve personal weaknesses.
- are more likely to take responsibility for their past mistakes.
- are more likely to set new goals for themselves after not meeting goals.
Self-shame and self-criticism simply don’t work. Self-compassion is the only sustainable way to create radical and permanent change in your behavior and your life.
Purpose is who you really are underneath your layers of pain and shame. Therefore, self-compassion is the only way to reveal your purpose.