These four words are all gifts that we would gladly give to someone who is in need of them. We see a friend who is hurting, a coworker who is struggling, we offer advice, assistance, and sympathy. The question is: are we practicing the same compassion, empathy, forgiveness, and patience with ourselves? Are we as quick to forgive ourselves as we are someone else? Do we encourage the same amount of compassion for our mistakes that we would offer our children, our spouses, or our friends? More importantly, it can be hard to even understand what it would look like to do that. It is hard to envision what it would be like to grant ourselves compassion for our “failures”.
Practicing self-compassion means that you are examining your own emotions and mental health needs with an empathetic view in order to develop a healthy relationship with yourself. This differs from self-esteem or self-confidence. Self-compassion has an element of mercy, an overarching grace that allows an individual to use compassion as a means to acceptance. If all that sounds too difficult, you are not alone. Many of us feel that we have spoken words that are unforgivable, or our actions are too terrible to come to grips with. In moments where you relate to that sentiment, remember: there is someone else who has already shown you what forgiveness looks like, and He is the Father of Compassion “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Cor. 1:4) If he can forgive us knowing all that we have done and all we’ll ever do, should we not then grant ourselves the same compassion we are freely given by God. We are granted this comfort in order to comfort others because we are now filled to the brim with forgiveness and compassionate mercy.
Compassion. Empathy. Forgiveness. Patience.
We are given these four things freely, and we freely give them to others, so what is holding you back from giving them freely to yourself? Maybe you have expectations that are too high. Maybe living up to those expectations has become daunting and overwhelming. In order to begin practicing self-compassion, we must start by replacing those high expectations with an even greater hope. When we value our hope for the future, our hope for mental health, our hope for change and improvement, we seek to accept challenges and victories alike. Instead of judging ourselves against those expectations, we seek to find our value and accept our mistakes along the way. Acceptance can lead us to create space for compassion. It’s not a matter of lowering or managing our expectations or putting a place value on our self-esteem scale, it is a shift from expectance to acceptance. Did you make a poor choice today? Probably. Does that mistake define you? Absolutely not.
So, the next time you start to worry and think “What is wrong with me? Why am I being so hard on myself?” start to reframe the question and look at it from a new perspective. Approach yourself with compassion and acceptance, change the narrative. Allowing your emotions (positive and negative) to run their course is one of the most self-compassionate practices you can do. It will not always be easy, but the result will mirror that feeling you get when someone you care deeply for tells you “I forgive you” and that is a feeling I think we can all agree is invaluable.