The Intricacies of Self-Compassion
The admired author Brené Brown writes in her book Rising Strong, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do.” I read this a couple of years ago, and it has resonated with me ever since. As someone who has put effort into working on my relationship with myself, it has not been an easy journey. It has been anything but easy. Growing up, I never learned or was taught how to hold space for myself. As an adolescent and a young adult, I struggled to be at peace with myself. I would critically question myself when my ideas got disapproved. Whenever I made mistakes, I would play thoughts like- 'I am incompetent. I will never know how to make good choices. How could I do this?' What people thought of me mattered more than my thoughts about myself. While I sought kind words, reassurance, and empathy from the others, I stood last in line to approach myself with those.
I suppose our educational and societal constructs lead us to form such self-sabotaging beliefs and conduct, consciously or unconsciously. Back in school, my math teacher told me I was not smart enough to score well in the subject. If I had questions to ask in the classroom, some teachers perceived it as a waste of time. I can recall similar instances at home. I always feared making mistakes as a child because of the potential scolding. Even when I fell and hurt myself, I got scolded for being careless and clumsy. So I started holding back from sharing my concerns, asking questions that mattered, and being vocal about my needs.
I only realized how unhealthy living this way was a couple of years ago. During the second wave of COVID-19, I came to terms with the fact that I was very critical of myself. The same year, I even came to terms with a looming mental health condition, which I discovered while taking a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Course. Although I had the support of the people I loved during this time, I realized my lack of support for myself all along was anything but helpful. Instead of going down the spiral of negative thoughts, feelings, and actions, each time something inconvenient happened, I tried everything I could to get things back on track and be more supportive of myself.
So often, we rely on others to validate our existence, tell us kind words, and make us feel pleasant, but if these do not come from ourselves first, what others say will not matter for a long time. If we are not good friends with ourselves, there are chances that we will eventually burden our close ones by seeking constant reassurance that we are worthy of love, respect, and care. We cannot just rely on self-compassion because we require support, love, and care from family members, friends, or romantic partners. But imagine feeling inadequate, hollow, and harsh toward yourself whenever the people you love are not around to approve of you or when they turn down your ideas. That is what a lack of self-compassion can appear to be.
Reflecting on my journey, I have learned that self-compassion does not necessarily have to be anything grand. It does not mean spending resources on ourselves to give ourselves a temporary feel-good moment. Self-compassion means identifying and understanding our emotions. It means recognizing our needs and choosing strategies that work best for us to fulfil them. It means encouraging ourselves to grow and giving a pat on our back for the tiniest achievements (aligned with the kind of person we want to be). It means letting go of what is not in our control and being accountable for impacting the people around us and ourselves positively. It means forgiving ourselves when we falter while also doing the needful to grow into better versions of ourselves. And, unlike how we might interpret self-compassion, it is far from a selfish act or self-indulgent practice.
A friend introduced me to a concept she had heard somewhere, “You cannot pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.” This quote expresses the idea of self-compassion for me in a nutshell. Unless we can think about ourselves, understand our feelings, and cater to our needs—trying to fend for the needs of people around us will always empty us and make us resentful. However, what almost always helps me put things into perspective when it comes to self-compassion and compassion towards people and beings around us, is a quote by Naval Ravikant, "Think for yourself, not of yourself. Think of others, not for others." While we can interpret this saying in many ways, it reminds me that I am only responsible for working on myself while assuring that my actions and thoughts positively impact the people I value.