In this series, we have been looking at how to increase the compassion you have for yourself. The first article looked at the concept of self-compassion as a whole, the second explored how to recognize your limits, and the third focused on how to have tenderheartedness toward your distress. This article is the final installation on using compassion in facing and accepting emotional distress.
Acknowledge, Experience, Act
As discussed in this series, acknowledgment and tenderheartedness show you how to no longer hold yourself as separate from distress. Dissolving this boundary between distress and your sense of self allows you to begin understanding the true nature of your hurt. This, in turn, allows you to be more effective in your attempts to alleviate pain.
A simple example is a mild pain in your stomach. A self-compassionate stance would begin by acknowledging the pain. The pain would be regarded as valid, as worth paying attention to, without belittlement or judgment. This openness to the pain enables you to experience it clearly and feel its nuances. Through this experiential understanding, you become far more capable of deciding what needs to take place in order to stop it. Is it hunger pains, indigestion, the pains of food poisoning, or the flu? Recognize the pain, feel it deeply, and make decisions according to your experiences.
This facet of self-compassion can be the hardest for survivors of trauma. Unlike acknowledgment of pain or tenderheartedness, deeply feeling distress requires full contact. Acknowledging your pain can be done in a purely logical and non-emotional manner. Tenderheartedness, though fully emotional, can sometimes be done from a psychological distance: tenderheartedness is directed at the pain, but not the one in pain. Beginning to own your emotions tends to shatter the conception that you are separate from your feelings. You will experience your distress in all of its nuances but a stance of self-compassion will not abandon you in this place of hurt.
Many individuals keep their pain at an arm’s distance. They assume that practicing self-compassion means allowing pain to be all consuming. This is not the case. The tricky part with experiencing and alleviating distress is that it requires a delicate balance: neither disowning nor being engulfed by the pain. Remember the earlier example of stomach pains. If you ignored them, you would be unable to take action and end the pain. If you were engulfed by pain, you would feel helpless in the face of overwhelming hurt.
Self-compassion helps maintain this balance. Inherent within self-compassion is the acknowledgment and acceptance of wounds with the intention of healing, growing, and moving forward. Self-compassion requires both a tender connection with experienced pain and an unyielding commitment to active healing.
I encourage you to practice growing self-compassion for who you are, who you have been, and for all that you have gone through. Feel free to work on whatever component of self-compassion is most appealing to you at the present but don’t forget that all components are fundamental to compassion. As always, reach out for the guidance and compassion of a trained professional—you do not need to go the road alone.
© Copyright 2011 by Susanne M. Dillmann, PsyD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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