A couple of weeks ago, I co-facilitated a workshop with a group of counsellors considering the topic of self-compassion. Most people are far more used to hearing about compassion than self-compassion, but I think there is an important relationship between the two that is easily overlooked.
Here in Vancouver, we’ve just had a visit from Karen Armstrong, who was in town to mark the launch of the Greater Vancouver Compassion Network. This group is inspired by the Charter for Compassion – a world-wide effort to create compassionate communities and make our world a more compassionate place – started by Armstrong in 2009. Her studies in world religions and theology have led her to the realization that at the core of all religious and spiritual traditions is compassion. Beyond all the differences and nuances of language and practice, each tradition encourages individuals to recognize our shared humanity, and our connectedness to each other.
So, how does self-compassion fit into this picture?
Here are four thoughts that might shed some light:
1. Self-compassion includes self-care, but is also more
One part of self-compassion is an ability to treat oneself with kindness rather than harsh criticism when noticing shortcomings, mistakes or failures. But there’s more…
A second component of self-compassion is an ability to recognize that imperfection is part of being human, and that everyone experiences disappointment and failure. With this understanding, we’re more able to stay connected to others, rather than feeling isolated by our mistakes.
A third component of self-compassion is mindful awareness of our own experience and an ability to put our experiences in perspective rather than letting them overwhelm us.
2. Self-compassion helps people become more genuinely compassionate
If we can be compassionate towards ourselves first, we are more likely to be able to draw on our own resources in order to be able to extend compassion to those around us. If harsh self-criticism is all we know, the same harshness will underlie our efforts in relationships, whether we’re aware of it or not.
3. Self-compassion is a process, not a destination
Self-compassion is a quality that can be consciously cultivated over time. It isn’t something that anyone can achieve immediately, nor is it something that is continuously present. We have to work on it, and it becomes a way of being.
4. Self-compassion is not selfish
I believe that a self-compassionate presence in one person creates an atmosphere that invites others to be more compassionate toward themselves. When each individual takes responsibility for cultivating self-compassion, the cumulative effect can be a community or society that is more forgiving, gentle, and compassionate with its members.
Also, here’s a link to an article on self-compassion specific to counsellor training and development by my friend and colleague Ariadne Patsiopoulos.
Stay tuned… Ariadne and I are hoping to offer more workshops on the subject of self-compassion in the next few months.
Maybe you’ll be able to attend one!