Sunday, June 19, 2011
The Discipline of Self-Compassion
by Mike Adams, PhD
What is "self-compassion"? When I first heard the term, I thought it was some disguised term for selfishness. But selfishness is when we meet our own needs at the expense of another's needs. Self-compassion deals is extending compassion or grace to ourselves in areas that we are hurting, deficient, or suffering. It deals with matters of the heart rather than whether I treat myself to that extra helping of ice cream or hit the snooze button two or three more times than I should each morning. Just like compassion towards others, self-compassion is the giving of warmth, care, patience, and encouragement to our own mind. Self-compassion is not about meeting our needs; it deals with the voices inside us. By "voices" I mean the thoughts that run through our heads, the things we say to ourselves, and that thought process that seems to provide constant commentary on our lives. In the Bible, the apostle Paul prays that the churches in Ephesus would grasp how wide, and long and high and deep the love of Christ is in their inner being (see Ephesians 3:14-19). Self-compassion is allowing Christ's sacrificial grace, forgiveness, and ...well...compassion to permeate how we speak to ourselves.
Self-compassion is speaking to ourselves the way Jesus might speak to us. Being compassionate to yourself does not encourage a selfish or self-focused way of being. In practice, self-compassion frees us up to not be as obsessed about our needs. Self-criticism seems to have more of an opposite effect in causing us to become more needy and demanding of the environment. You see, inside of each person is an internal conflict, a war if you will, between a self-critical, debasing, devaluing voice and a compassionate, gracious, positive voice. Self-compassion is learning how to give the encouraging voice more air time. This voice doesn't excuse the areas of our lives that we need to grow but instead encourages us towards greater connection to God and greater connection to becoming more like Christ. So, what types of things do you say to yourself? Are they negative, discouraging statements?
Here are several questions to ask yourself:
1. Do you find it difficult to accept that God has forgiven you for your shortcomings or past mistakes?
2. Do you block yourself from being as compassionate towards yourself as you are towards others?
3. Do you tend to be your "own worst critic"?
If the answer is yes to these questions, then you may struggle considerably with self-compassion. When self-compassion suffers, we become bitter towards others and even judgmental at times, especially of those who are close to us. We can only give the amount of grace that we have allowed ourselves to receive (see Luke 7:47). If this is the case, work on bringing those critical thought patterns "captive" and create a series of more compassionate statements to replace them. Can you imagine what life would be like without a frequent internal critic sitting on your shoulder?