Where There’s Self-Compassion, There’s Compassion for Others

Aromatherapy candle and frangipani flower“We are at the beginning of an age of compassion.” —James Doty, neurosurgeon

How do we become loving? Ideally, we had loving parents whose consistent behavior and unflagging support made us feel safe and valued. Unfortunately, many people don’t grow up in those circumstances. For them, the path to becoming more loving and kind comes from cultivating self-compassion. In time, that self-directed loving kindness moves outward, landing sweetly on fellow travelers.

What, exactly, does self-compassion and loving kindness toward oneself look like? It looks like gentleness. It’s responding patiently to the slings and arrows of life with the soothing narrative, spoken or unspoken, you deserve to hear.

Most of us have been injured, abandoned, neglected, criticized, abused, traumatized, rejected, and unseen at one time or another. As difficult as it is, you can heal those hurts and explore your inner emotional terrain by sitting with everything that arises. By breathing into your body where there is tension, constriction, pulsing, electrical sensations, heat, cold, tremors, and other forms of discomfort, you make yourself feel safe. After all, every emotion and physical feeling will pass. Paradoxically, focusing on these things rather than fighting them conserves your energy.

Talking with a therapist can help you work through the pain, disappointment, anger, and grief you experience, allowing you to arrive at a place where you can summon compassion for yourself and others. There are also steps you can take, all on your own, to move toward that place.

Start today.

Buy a journal, if you don’t already have one, and write in it: memories, thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, everything. The act of writing allows you to process your experiences and release them. In addition, it is a great way of watching your progress as your thoughts, behaviors, and feelings shift and morph through time.

What, exactly, does self-compassion and loving kindness toward oneself look like? It looks like gentleness. It’s responding patiently to the slings and arrows of life with the soothing narrative, spoken or unspoken, you deserve to hear.

Make a pact to know yourself better every day and to lovingly, patiently explore the hurt places. Support them with soothing words, a safe environment, kind people, enough sleep, healthy food, and time for reflection.

Surround yourself with beauty: a flower, an apple on a plate, a photograph or picture from a magazine, aromatherapy, or anything else that appeals to your aesthetic senses.

Remind yourself that every minute, every hour, and every day you feel different. You are a swirl of emotions, sensations, and thoughts that come and go. Nothing lasts—not even you. So, when something comes up that feels scary or unpleasant, let it arouse your curiosity. Investigate how it feels. What story are you telling yourself about it? Be gentle with yourself and your reactions. Allowing things to be as they are, whether we like them or not, is a key element of self-compassion.

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Read Buddhist philosophy. Try The Pocket Pema Chödrön, or listen to a podcast by Tara Brach or Jonathan Foust. Their inspirational and practical talks will give you some tools for creating a loving relationship with yourself and others.

Give something away. It could be an item of clothing you no longer use, money, or time. Giving may help you feel more connected to others and your highest self. Just imagine what the world would be like if we regularly gave to each other. Physicists tell us we are all energy and, therefore, all connected. By consciously giving to strangers, we acknowledge and cement that bond.

When you feel angry, irritated, or annoyed with someone, take a moment to imagine the situation from that person’s point of view. Ask yourself, “How would I like to be treated if I were feeling or acting the same way?”

I like to remind myself of what the Buddha said: There is no one more deserving of compassion than you.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nicole S. Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, Holistic Psychotherapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Catherine

    March 22nd, 2016 at 10:19 AM

    There are no truer words than this.
    If we do not have s elf compassion then how can we ever find it in ourselves to have it for any others?
    We first have to be able to love ourselves and then that will filter down to not only how we treat other people but how we feel about them as well.

  • trevor

    March 22nd, 2016 at 2:25 PM

    Yeah the people who are egotistical care only about themselves and quite honestly they probably underneath it all don’t like themselves too much, it’s all a facade.

  • Jenn

    March 23rd, 2016 at 11:04 AM

    It always feels good to do something good for another person. It is just like you are encouraging them to do something good for another person and then hopefully that cycle of giving will continue to grow.

  • Joely

    March 24th, 2016 at 9:10 AM

    Don’t you think that this is a big problem these days, that people think very little about how they would feel if someone treated them the same way that they treat others. That is something that is sorely missing, because I think that if we would take a little more time to give a good hard thought to that, and think about what kind of pain that would cause you if they did the same thing to you, then this would make us much more aware of how were are treating others wrongly.

  • jack

    March 26th, 2016 at 5:38 AM

    You do need to make sure that you are giving
    for the right reasons
    and not just as some way to make yourself feel better

  • Nan

    March 28th, 2016 at 4:59 PM

    There was I will admit a time in my life where I literally turned off all of my feelings felt nothing for myself really and certainly not for anyone else. I think that for the longest time I was trying to hide form the pain that I was feeling and was so unwilling to acknowledge.

  • Nicole

    March 29th, 2016 at 11:25 AM

    Thank you all for sharing your thoughts with me. I appreciate everyone’s different reactions to this topic.

  • Collin

    March 30th, 2016 at 4:17 PM

    Just one more thing i would like to add before the comments are closed on this one.
    I do wish that more of us as parents could show our own children just how much more wonderful life can be when you give yourself a break, show yourself a little kindness, and how this will then spill over into how they treat others in turn.

  • Nicole Urdang

    March 31st, 2016 at 5:15 AM

    Hi Collin,
    I agree with you; moreover, anytime we take good care of ourselves it’s as if we are giving everyone in our orbit a cosmic permission slip to do the same for themselves.

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