The word compassion sometimes evokes eye rolling. For some, it brings up images of overly entitled people who expect to be easily forgiven for bad behavior. Or, when we are reminded to direct compassion towards ourselves, we might think: “I’m just being a baby and I need to get over myself.”
But here’s the secret that most good LGBTQ affirming therapists deeply understand: compassion is the engine of positive change. Compassion for ourselves does not make us self centered. In fact it has the opposite effect. It makes us more empathic towards others.
Self compassion is not the same as “poor me.” That’s a form of pity that only depletes our energy. Self compassion is the understanding that at any given point in your life you did the best that you could given the hand you were dealt and the level of awareness and skill you had at that time.
Compassion mobilizes energy and is a source of personal courage. Self criticism shuts us down, makes us tight and fearful, or leads to destructive rebellion from the negative messages.
Think of it this way: do your friends meet challenges better when you give them words of encouragement or when you tell them they are unattractive, hopeless, or stupid?
How do we grow our compassion for ourselves and others? The development of self-compassion as a way of life depends on the cumulative effect of our daily decisions. It is a choice we make to change how we talk to ourselves. It starts by noticing the many ways we judge ourselves harshly each day ten times more harshly than we judge people we love. Once we notice our negative self-talk we then have the awareness needed to consciously choose a new way to interpret our actions using a kinder lens.
So listen for when your thoughts about yourself are downright mean. Make a commitment to soften those voices and to learn why they are there and where they came from.