Self-Compassion: Without It, Misery

There are at least two groups of giving people.

There are those people who give to others and feel rotten inside themselves. They give their time, their money, their advice, their energy and walk away feeling drained and unappreciated. They feel as if the life has been sucked from them. They feel exhausted and sad. Deeply sad. They have given to the point of self-destruction.

There are also those people who thrive on giving and manage to remain compassionate and helpful even when others don’t follow their advice, don’t appreciate their efforts or even reject them personally.

What’s the difference between these two groups of people?


So how do we cultivate Self-Compassion?

1. We realise that our lowest points are also our most powerful times.

These are times when we are so low that we can hardly breathe; the times when our brains are changing their wiring. Literally.  These are the times that life asks us to accept that: Something has changed we would rather hadn’t; Or, something didn’t work out how we intended it to; Or,  another person has decided not to play the role we had assigned them.

The mourning process is involved in any endeavour that doesn’t turn out how we wanted it to. (Even falling off a bike.)

It’s hideously unpleasant to allow ourselves to go through this process. Physically, hideously unpleasant, at times. So, most of us fight it and prevent the process from completing and unintentionally set ourselves up for a repeat performance with the next, similar situation. Which is guaranteed to arrive, and be more intense, if we have blocked any of the stages our brain needs in order to make proper sense of the new paradigm.

To be compassionate towards ourselves, we must allow ourselves the time to properly grieve.

2. We embrace our shadows.

You see, most of us have aspects of our personality and lives that we do not want others to notice. And this is a self-protective mechanism, many people are mean and who wants to open yourself up to criticism? But the power is in their ability to hurt us. If we are able to accept the things that others might not like, we remove the power we imagine they have in our lives. We will be judged. It’s a fact of life. Removing the power from the judgments of others is liberating.

My truth: I have a big nose and an uncle who groped me a couple of times when I was nine; I sometimes over-spend and I get overwhelmed when I have too much going on in my head.

And that all felt uncomfortable to write down, my shoulders physically tensed as I wrote it. But all these things have also negatively impacted on my life because I wanted others not to see them. I didn’t want others to see them because I imagined I would be judged for them and seen as less than ideal, and therefore worthless, because of them. And sometimes, I have been. These have far less power to negatively affect my life now than they ever have because I no longer attempt to hide them or pretend they don’t/didn’t happen. (Write yours down. It’s scary and self-compassionate to do so.) Some people still reject me for them but most don’t. And most importantly, I don’t reject myself for them.

I don’t go announcing them to the world every day, but I don’t fear anyone finding out about them and judging me for them. I accept they are part of me.

To be compassionate towards ourselves, we must stop being afraid that others will discover our dirty little secrets and reject us for them.

3. We recognise when we are playing a victim card, a rescuer card or a persecutor card.

Many of us gain our sense of self solely from how we interact with others. This is not healthy self-esteem. This is why many relationships fall apart, whether they are romantic ones, family ones or those with friends and colleagues. If we ONLY gain self-esteem from rescuing others or perceiving ourselves as rescuers we are not being compassionate to ourselves. Helping others is great. I highly recommend it. But if we have assigned ourselves the role of rescuer, we are doomed to disappointment. We can help someone temporarily, we can help them to help themselves but we can’t protect or rescue them from their own stuff. It just can’t be done and we will make ourselves ill, trying.

If we ONLY gain self-esteem from advising others we are not being compassionate to ourselves. Others can ONLY hear our advice when they are ready to and as for actually following it.. LOL …. People will do what they want to do. Often even those asking for advice only want their world view confirmed. All we do, when we focus on how right we are and how we wish everyone would just listen to us, is attempt to control the uncontrollable in order to make ourselves feel safe. It’s a shaky way to live, and shaky is not self-compassionate.

If we ONLY gain self-esteem when others interact with us positively, we are not being compassionate towards ourselves. Others cannot fill any hole we have inside in any sustained way. The excitement of falling for someone, whether potential lover or friend, is a temporary fill…. and it can be wonderful, but we cannot rely on anyone else to fill any holes we have, properly. If we expect someone else to fill us, all we are doing is setting ourselves up for deeper disappointment and deeper sorrow when that initial rush ends. We are assigning them roles in our fantasy world that they cannot hope to fill. (Being human and all.)

We are NOT blameless and in need of rescuing from others. We are NOT good for constantly helping and sacrificing ourselves for others. We are NOT right about others because our view of the world works for us.

To be compassionate towards ourselves, we must recognise when we are setting ourselves up to fail in our relationships. 

4. We accept that how we react is within our power and control.

Let’s face it: Other people can be arses. They really can. It’s their stuff and we might intellectually understand that but it still hurts when their arse-ness is aimed in our direction. We can’t control them. We really can only control how we react.

A trick that can be helpful is to notice when we are being triggered by something someone else does or doesn’t do, says or doesn’t say. We might not be able to do so at the time but we can go away and think about why we were triggered. What dirty-secret-button about ourselves did that person push? Chances are there’s something there to investigate.

At the time, the most important thing we can do is speak our own truth with no B/S. Direct speech people, no passive-aggressive hinting or mucking about. No unexplained silences. Just state your experience and don’t defend it.

Cry while you’re speaking, if you cry. Blush while you’re speaking, if you blush. Shake while you’re speaking, if you shake.

“I feel…..” “I want….” “This is not OK….”

And sometimes silence is the best answer. Some people will never hear what we have to say. There is a lot of self-respect and dignity in walking away from people who constantly dump their shyte on us. (Yes, even family members.) Right then and as a conscious choice for the future.

To be compassionate towards ourselves, we speak our truth clearly and firmly, or we walk away from the drama others wish to bring into our lives.

5. We accept that everything we do, we do by choice.

Yes. Everything. We feed our children, by choice. We listen to our friends, by choice. We clean the house, by choice. We ignore our own needs, by choice. We procrastinate, by choice. We stay in a bad/sad relationship, by choice. We comply with the demands of others, by choice.

Truly. We choose to do them because we prefer to do these things than face the consequences of not doing them.

There is no self-compassion in blaming others for what you do or don’t do…..or in blaming the government…in blaming society….or in blaming God/the Universe/Gaia. Compassion comes from understanding that we are nurturing ourselves, or attempting to nurture ourselves, by doing these things. We are protecting ourselves from consequences that we don’t want – even procrastination is protective….Who wants to feel physically the discomfort of ringing someone who we don’t want to speak to, the boredom of tidying up – again, the overwhelmed feelings of a too heavy work load,  the sorrow of another when we tell them we want to break-up,  etc? It might not be healthy protection but it is protection.

Sometimes we have to choose between two or more unpleasant options. It’s still a choice. Our choice.

To be compassionate towards ourselves, we accept that EVERYTHING we do – we choose to do.

6. We trust ourselves to know what’s best for us.

Most people want us to do things their way.  It makes them feel better. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they aren’t. Advice can be wonderful. Or toxic. Sometimes things would be easier for us, if we listened to others in the first place. But often we’re not ready to hear what they have to say. Or we rebel because we find them intrusive and/or controlling.

In the end, if we can accept: Everything we do, we do from choice; Complete the mourning process every time things go pear-shaped; Embrace our shadows;  And don’t resort to victim, rescuer or persecutor (advisor) roles, then we can trust ourselves to make the best decisions we can for ourselves right now, right this second.  And accept that we did the best we could with the information we had in the past.

Yes, seek and listen to advice from others. But don’t feel bad if you reject it because it doesn’t resonate with you. Even if later, in hindsight, you recognise it was good advice.

To be compassionate towards ourselves, we trust that we will get things right for us and our life, right now, right this second.

7. We talk gently to ourselves.

Self-talk is incredibly powerful in our lives. How many of us think we should be doing better than what we are in some aspect of our lives? Most of us, I suspect. We often speak to ourselves in a way we would never speak to anyone else. We get cross or down right angry with ourselves for not being ‘better’ ….. doing ‘better’….. moving forward faster….doing as well as others SEEM to be doing.

We know stuff. We are X years old. We advise others about these things. We went to university. Therefore we should/ought…blah, blah, blah…

Whatever it is that we think is the reason we aren’t where we imagine we should be….it’s false. We are where we are. We can’t force or push the move to acceptance and wisdom. We just have to follow the path of life as it unfolds and deal with stuff as it arises.

Speaking to ourselves with encouragement and love is a wonderful way to show ourselves compassion. As long as we do our best to face the B/S we might want to ignore, too. No point telling ourselves we’re fabulous if we’re not dealing with things. But we can remind ourselves we’re doing the best we can.

We’re not horrible, dreadful, terrible failures for not being able to pay the bills. We’re simply in a hole from which we need to dig ourselves. We’re not horrible, dreadful, terrible, unlovable failures because relationships haven’t worked out for us. We’re simply learning how to be in healthy relationships. We’re not horrible, dreadful, terrible failures because we are unwell. We’re stuck in human bodies, which don’t always comply with our wishes.

Even thinking: This is too good to be true; When will this good run end; It can’t be this wonderful forever; What have I done to deserve these blessings etc – is negative self-talk.

To be compassionate towards ourselves, we speak gently and positively but also firmly to ourselves.

8. We accept that how others treat us is a reflection of how we treat ourselves or have treated ourselves in the past.

One of the things I often hear when people speak of others, is how they would never treat any other person the way they are being/have been treated. Golden Rule, blah, blah, blah.

But here’s the kicker: As adults, if we are upset by how we are treated by others, there’s a very good chance, that’s how we treat ourselves. Or how we’ve treated ourselves in the past.

If we have blocked emotional connection, others will block us from their emotional truth. If we speak badly of ourselves, others will speak badly of us, to us.

If we have been aggressive with ourselves, including with how we speak to ourselves, others will be aggressive with us. If we have been less than direct, others will be passive-aggressive with us. If we have expected to be rescued, others will want to be rescued by us. If we have felt false and fake, others will be false and fake with us. If we have wanted someone to fill a fairy-tale role in our life, others will abandon our story and find their fairy-tale elsewhere.

In accepting our shadows and mourning properly, the impact of the behaviours of others will be less. They may still do all these things and aim them in our general direction, but we won’t suffer because of them….or at least not to the same extent, because we recognise they are pushing our dirty-little-secret buttons and we investigate.

We forgive ourselves when we give up the pain that others have triggered within us.

To be compassionate towards ourselves, we accept that we may not have treated ourselves well in the past and we forgive ourselves for that.

9. We mind our own business.

I rarely give advice, these days. I rarely tell others what I think they should do, to solve their problems. I’ll listen. I’ll ask questions, if the other person wants me to, or I get the impression they want me to push a little. I’ll point out information they already intellectually know. But actual advice giving happens infrequently and only when asked for.

I learned that people don’t often really want advice, they want their world view confirmed. I learned to trust others to work things out for themselves. I learned that people who are ready for blunt talking and tough love are few and far between. So, why would I spend my time advising people who are going to ignore me?

People will think what they think and attribute my actions or non actions, my speech or non speech to their paradigms, regardless of my motives or experience. So, why would I spend my time worrying about what they think of me?

To be compassionate towards ourselves, we focus on what needs to be done in our own lives and don’t worry about everyone else.

10. We commit to ourselves.

No, I’m not talking dieting, exercise or money making. This is about self-investigation and unknotting our knots so we can move forwards.

Some patterns we use in our lives, were once helpful and possibly life-saving or psychologically and emotionally protective. But they are no longer useful once the situation has passed. If we have mourned properly, they will dissipate and we can move forward. But they tend to get stuck. When they get stuck we tend to be attracted to situations/people that will help us unstuck them. Sometimes we call this falling in love.

The first situation will be like a stone in the shoe. It’s good if we recognise it as a learning experience but chances are we won’t. We’ll be attracted to the next situation that is similar but more intense. By the time we get to a brick-wall situation, our brain/the universe/God has our attention. Each time, we get plunged back into the mourning process into the same place where the stuckness happened. It’s pretty horrendous. Especially if we go back to the place where we are all sensation and can’t feel our body.

By blocking our progress we are treating ourselves with less compassion than we deserve. It’s tough. It’s damn tough. It’s big swears tough at times. But unless we allow it and the tears, and the shaking and the flashbacks, we’re treating ourselves in a way that will attract others to treat us in the same way…..again. It’s kinder to allow ourselves to feel like shyte – it’s temporary, if we truly let go.

Sometimes we need a coach, therapist or friend to help us find the knots, find the root of the knots or untie the knots. But we have to be ready, or we’re wasting our time and theirs. I’m immensely grateful to the people who have helped me untie mine.

 To be compassionate towards ourselves, we let our conscious mind face the things that have become stuck within us, no matter how unpleasant that experience is.

11. We live in the now.

We really only have right now, right this second. The past is gone. The future is yet to come. Each moment is what it is. Our ability to be here is a pretty good indicator of how happy we are and how compassionate we are towards ourselves.

Yes, it’s good to have goals and dreams but often those goals and dreams take us from what’s happening in front of us, right now. Yes, we might end up on the street with unpaid bills next week but right now, no-one is knocking on the door.

We deal with things as they arise. Let them arise when they arise, deal with them when they do. No amount of planning (without action) or worry will help, it just removes us from living now.

Things change. All the time. It’s the only constant. Life is made up of magical moments. Magical, ordinary, every day moments.

 To be compassionate towards ourselves, we live in the NOW.



This post first appeared on my personal blog: Living Without Drama on 24th January, 2015.

Karyn Wills
Karyn Wills

Karyn Wills is a divorced mum with three sons who are 16, 12, and 8 years-old respectively. She works at her ideal job in the Waldorf school which her boys attend.