Self-compassion – it’s love, care and nonjudgmental self-acceptance. It supports and regenerates our system and is among the purest of human emotions and qualities of the heart.
We live in a world in which we teach and ask our children to show compassion to one another, but often we fail to stress the importance of self-compassion. Too often, when it comes to extending compassion to ourselves, the message is that this is somehow selfish, selfcentered, even an extravagance, and should be avoided.
Why is this? Denying ourselves this gift when we fail to live up to our own or others’ expectations, become ill or falter in any of a number of other ways, deprives us of the healing power of this generous and loving emotion.
Take, for example, the countless occasions when a parent comforts, encourages and unconditionally loves the son or daughter who has disobeyed a rule, done poorly in school, gotten into a scrape or otherwise has shown poor judgment in something else. Where is it written that comfort, encouragement and unconditional love are reserved only for others?
The HeartMath Institute has conducted extensive research into human emotions and the results show that compassion, care and love, among other positive emotions, and anger, fear and anxiety, among other negative emotions, profoundly influence health and well-being. The research also shows it doesn’t matter whether we experience these emotions naturally or teach ourselves through practice to intentionally feel them: The results are the same. You can learn more about the fascinating influence of emotions in the HeartMath study, The Physiological and Psychological Effects of Compassion and Anger.
It stands to reason that we would be better able to practice compassion with others when we understand and experience it on a personal level. As studies at the HeartMath Research Center and elsewhere have shown, people, whether they are ill, depressed or suffering from other debilitating conditions, can gain great benefit when they are shown sincere compassion. Why wouldn’t this hold true when we are genuinely nurturing and caring toward ourselves?
Increasing Your Self-Compassion by understanding, showing concern and forgiving yourself for any reason – following an angry outburst, failing to qualify for a job you sought, overeating, etc., – is OK. When you are able to embrace the compassion you would extend to others, you create an energy field that elevates your personal vibration to a higher pitch. Like that vibrant person with the magnetic personality that seems to draw people effortlessly, this higher state fosters positive emotions and more intelligent choices and beneficial outcomes.
Similarly, self-compassion – nurturing your own mind, body and spirit is the perfect anecdote for the negative thoughts and emotions that reside at the lower vibrations. You naturally begin to feel surrounded by peace and are able to view your circumstances with greater clarity and a sense that although you may not be able to change things immediately, eventually, they will improve.
Although human beings seem to be innately compassionate in varying degrees, history provides abundant evidence that the world has been wanting in compassion. And though few are so completely devoted in their compassion as Mother Teresa, Gandhi or Martin Luther King, all of us have it within our power to increase our own compassion. Self-compassion and self-maintenance can be great training for increasing the quality and effectiveness of our love and compassion for others.
Heart Lock-In® Technique for Increasing Self-Compassion
Use this HeartMath tool when you are facing an immediate difficult decision or situation. The Heart Lock-In, when practiced daily, eventually teaches you to automatically respond with self-compassion to the challenges of life and enhances your compassion toward others. Additionally it will help you increase your energy in the moment and resilience for future challenges.
- Recognize what you are feeling.
- Focus in your heart area and breathe in love for about a minute.
- Now breathe self-compassion through the heart area and throughout your entire body for a few minutes.
- Find a still, quiet place inside where you can feel this compassion. If negative thoughts or feelings about yourself arise in the mind, gently return your focus to the heart area.
- Radiate compassion out from your heart to any issues you are addressing – perceived failure, a feeling of inadequacy, insecurity or self-pity – with an honest understanding of what you are going through. Continue to do this for a few minutes, longer if needed, all the while creating within a heart-filled environment of compassion.
As you actively begin increasing your self-compassion, it is important not to confuse this constructive emotion with one that is destructive: overcare. You may have observed overcare when people care excessively for those who are ill or facing extreme challenges by trying to do so much for them that they exhaust themselves – and even perhaps those for whom they are caring. Ultimately, overcare can cause harm to the receiver and provider.
In the case of the self, overcare can occur when we ill-advisedly respond to our misfortunes by giving ourselves permission to overeat, oversleep or overindulge in other behaviors such as self-pity that actually are at opposite purposes to sincere self-compassion.
The following New York Times article urging people to treat themselves as well as they would others and a study about eating and self-compassion provide further insight into this subject: A New Wave of Research.
Learning self-compassion may take time for many people, especially if you’ve been raised in an environment where it is viewed as selfish or self-centered and you have been taught that you are undeserving of it. As with any new skill or a change in behavior, as you mature and gain wisdom through life’s experiences, you will start to appreciate the therapeutic benefit and practicality of tending to yourself compassionately.
When you share the gift of compassion with yourself, your gift radiates out to a world that can always use a little more compassion.