When you’re raised as a young man in Ireland, the idea that you would love who you were, is an alien concept. Even to this day the idea of self-compassion is absurd. Partly due to Catholic guilt, partly due to the Irish mentality of getting on with things. Does this mean we don’t complain? Au contraire, we love moaning, to an even greater extent than the common man. But we’ll carry on our duty as we fill your ears with complaint.
I mention Catholic guilt due to the difference in mentality in Ireland. The “divide” between Catholic and Protestant is more than simply religious belief. Those born and raised Catholic, come from more traditional, humble backgrounds. Those of Protestant faith, come from wealthier, faith driven families, historically speaking. As a child I always wondered why Protestants had such self-belief. Pride was a sin, and a deadly sin at that.
Fast forward 20 years, this idea of self-compassion is becoming the new mindfulness. Approaching this idea as an adult feels cheesy and uncomfortable.
What is self-compassion?
Self-Compassion is believing in your ability and giving yourself a break. It has it’s roots in Buddhist teaching, like mindfulness. Depending on your experiences in life, your self-image will differ. As a result, you may love yourself, or hate yourself. If you fall into the second camp, it can be difficult to make progress because you’re being so hard on yourself. The old adage “If you don’t love yourself, how can anyone else love you” starts to ring true. It’s incredible how many of us go through life without firm self-belief. The older we get, the more we get filled with doubt as cultural milestones pass us by. Marriage, house, career. This is in part due to our culture. Comparison is the thief of joy and because we use social media so heavily, comparison is ever present.
You may not hate yourself, but are very hard on yourself. This is the subtle danger zone. You’re not depressed, but also not meeting your full potential because of this lack of self-belief. Which is ironic, because you want to get better but don’t have the self-belief to improve. Now acknowledge that you’re on your own journey. Moving at your own pace. You will learn your life lessons in your own time and make progress when they’re learnt. The lessons will come again tomorrow, if they aren’t learnt today. If you put in the work, you will get to where you want to be. Believe you can do it and will do it, because you can. This is self-compassion. It’s a difficult journey but you can and will do it with continued effort. In the very same way you would support a friend through difficulty or ventures.
If you feel that “loving” yourself is a gateway to being lazy, join the club. If you loved who you were, then why would you want to make any progress? In reality, studies show practicing self-compassion makes it much more likely that you will succeed. You’ll be happier and more likely to stick to it when working towards goals.
What it is not
Self-compassion is not giving yourself the excuse of being lazy all the time. Nor is it loving yourself to the extent you feel you’re better than others. The act of loving yourself does not put you on a pedestal. It’s not a hierarchy. It’s about being a better you. The only comparison you should make, is with the you that you were yesterday.
It’s not wallowing in self-pity when you encounter a problem. If anything, it’s about acknowledging that your problems are relative. That the problems faced by others, are equal, if not greater than your own. You will face adversity, be frustrated that you’ve failed but know you will get through the challenge.
When you get out of bed in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror, what is your self-dialogue? This jargon is cheesy, I know. It’s “airy fairy” hippy language, I know. But it’s actually important. Pick one thing you love about yourself, physically or mentally, and embrace that for the day. When you face that challenge at work or disagree with family, be proud of that one aspect of your being. That is your unshakable rock. Each day pick a different characteristic. Repeat until you are fully confident in who you are holistically. You can be improving yourself but if you don’t love who you are right now, then you won’t love who you will be then. What you have right now, is the body and mind that you have right now. Continually work on loving this person because the present moment is all you have.
If you would like to learn more, Dan Harris and Karamo have a wonderful podcast on the topic here. It opened my eyes to the depth of the topic and cleared up my misunderstanding over how cheesy it sounds.