Foundations Series: Self-Compassion

Hi!   Welcome to a new series on the blog, called Foundations of Self-Love.   This series is going to cover all of the aspects of self-love that I consider necessary to creating a sustainable sense of self-love that will carry you through your life.

This series touches on, in brief, the same concepts that I teach in my Foundations course.   The difference is that in the course, I go deep with you on all of these topics in a way that teaches you how to effect real change in your life, when you’ve decided you’re ready to do this work.   This series is an introduction to these concepts and how they help you build a sustainable sense of self-love, because I think it’s really crucial for as many people as possible to have access to this information.  

So why am I starting with self-compassion?   The reason I start with self-compassion, as supposed to self-esteem, self-respect, self-care, or self-nourishment, is because self-compassion is not only the most immediately achievable but will have the most immediate impact on your quality of life. Self-compassion is something that no matter where you're starting from, you are capable of either implementing or improving your practice.

Self-compassion is exactly what it sounds like.  It's treating yourself in any situation with the compassion that you would treat another human being that you think is worthy of compassion and humanity.  Frankly a lot of us are treating ourselves with a lack of compassion that should only be reserved for Donald Trump, or Rick Santorum. But in all seriousness, self-compassion is something that is really easy to conceptualize and understand, but can be difficult to implement.  None of this work is and although this is the most immediately achievable part, it still involves work.

Self-compassion requires us to change the way we speak to ourselves and the way that we respond to our own choices when we aren't happy with the choices we made. Self-compassion requires us to rewire our brain, just like most of this type of work does, so it's foundational to every other part of self-love.  Self-compassion plays into all of the other areas of self-love.  If you don’t believe you deserve compassion, why would you believe you're worthy of respect?  Why would you believe that you deserve to be properly nourished, body and soul?  Why would you think it was okay to take some time to take care of yourself?  All of these types of things show how compassion is fundamental to our humanity.  A lot of us, especially those of us who have so much respect for the humanity of others, struggle to apply that same mindset to ourselves.   We don't treat ourselves with the humanity and compassion with which we treat others, even total strangers, because for many different reasons we don't think we deserve that.  The first and most necessary fundamental shift you will make if you decide to take on this process is treating yourself with compassion because it inform all the rest of this growth. 

So, let’s talk about what self-compassion looks like in action and what the lack that looks like as well, so you can see the impact of this work.  So recently, I was having a night in on a Friday night.  I was on probably my second glass of red wine, relaxing, watching TV and getting some stuff done for the launch of this site.  So of course, I had Facebook up while I was doing all of this.  And I was engaging in some of my favorite groups that empower women and business owners, places that remind me that not all of social media is just an enormous dumpster fire, like most of it is.  I had been posting a lot of positive content all night, and throughout the week, actually, and in one of these groups, someone posted something that kind of got to me.   I’m pretty good about not getting sucked into social media conflicts, and it wasn’t directed only at me, but it was one of those posts where someone was saying, “If you do this thing, you don’t love yourself.”   And those always get me a bit irritated.   I mean, maybe if the “thing” was hurting others, or kicking puppies, or being addicted to heroin, I’d get it.   But more often, I see posts like this about the ways women choose to present themselves, or activities they choose to engage in.   It spans everything from wearing a lot of eyeliner to having casual sex to getting Botox.   Now, what would have been ideal would have been if I had either said something brief and disengaged, or not said anything at all and saved my thoughts on the matter for blogging or other more productive content.  That’s not what I did.   I engaged way more then I should have, which completely brought me down into a low energy place.   Eventually, I tuned out Facebook and started watching some TV.   (Yes, I promise, I’m getting to the part where this is all progress). 

For a while, my only mental instincts (and still, what often comes up first) was to say really negative shit to myself.   And I’m not sure where this idea came from; I know I read it somewhere and I would love to credit it properly so please tell me if you know.  But I read somewhere that the first thought that comes to mind represents what we have been taught to think and the second thought represents who we really are and who are choosing to be.  In this situation, my first thought was still me wanting to judge myself, thoughts to the effect of, “Why aren't you better than this?  Why can't you avoid these things all the time?  Some of the time isn’t enough,” and other thoughts on those same lines.  So many negative thought patterns, because it's surprising how instantaneously you can have several simultaneous negative thought patterns.  But it was less than 20-30 seconds before this second thought process kicked in. 

And this was the second thought process.

“You were upset about something you care about and that's OK.  It's understandable to get upset about things you care about.  You might not love the way you handled it but no one's perfect.  You recognized it eventually and you dissociated yourself and you’re taking the time you need to recalibrate.   All of that is OK.  You're under a lot of stress; you've had a long week and your anxiety is high.  Why don’t you have some tea or some water?  You’re thirsty.  Can you take this as a sign that you need to do some types of self-care right now?”  

I go into this first and second thought process and idea in the Foundations course,  but you can see from that second thought process that there are definitely interactions between self-compassion and self-care and the other things I’m going to talk about in this series. 

Treating myself-compassionately allowed me to look into my needs and what else was going on, and to figure out why was I having a hard time.  What could the situation tell me about what things needed to be looked at right now?   What I was lacking?  Choosing this, instead of being angry with myself about that choice, allowed me to use the situation as a message to myself.  It helped me gauge what my needs in that moment were and what was not being fulfilled enough so that I could take better care of myself, which will also in turn help me avoid such situations in the future.

Now, I’m going to give you an idea of what similar situations looked like before I had a sense of self-compassion.  

I got into an argument with a friend one time when we had gone out. So I was really embarrassed in the situation, and she stormed off angry, and there was no part of that night where self-compassion ever kicked in.  I mean even now it’s hard not to judge myself for how I handled that situation, but if I think about for fifteen seconds more, I'm grateful that I made those mistakes because you guys can learn from them without making any more of them yourselves.   We will always make mistakes, but situations like that tend not to go down this way when you’ve reached a place of sustainable self-love.  I was a sobbing mess.  I was being irritable with everybody else, and a lot us can get angry and mean when we’re in a moment where we don’t like ourselves.  We think we fucked up and we look for someone else to put those feelings on.   I was mad at myself and having all sorts of negative thoughts.   The thought process for that looked something like this:

“I’m a fuck up.  I’m never going to get my shit together.   My God, how old does one have to be to learn to handle their shit responsibly?   Of course I deserve my friend walking out on me, I’m an embarrassment and a waste of her time.”

The negative thoughts could go on forever.  They did go on for at least two hours, and that was nothing usual.   It was a common occurrence at that time when something didn't go according to plan for me when I did something that I considered a mistake or a fuck up or something of that nature.  

it's really sad to me, looking back, because if I had treated that situation with compassionate, the thoughts would have looked more like this:

 “Okay, you're really upset and that makes complete sense.  You’re embarrassed about what happened.  You’re hurt that your friend just walked out on you and yelled at you and said a lot of really hurtful things that you know touch on things that are sensitive for you.  Anyone would be hurt and embarrassed right now and that makes perfect sense.  I am so sorry that those things happened to you tonight.  Maybe you should treat the other people you’re tempted to be irritable with kindly, because I know how hard it is to make a mistake and beat yourself up about it.   It doesn't help anyone.   But it’s going to be okay.”

If I had thought about it for three minutes more at that time, and had been in a better emotional place where I was being kind to myself and therefore had full access to my mental resources, a million other practical things to help the situation would have occurred to me.  

I would've been able to go home and go, “Wow that was a really, really tough night.  You are emotionally exhausted and really hurt and really feeling a little bit attacked.  It’s brought up some really rough things for you.  Maybe this is a good time to take a bath and listen to some mantras that you like (because that's the way I relax, though heavy metal could be your go-to and I support that choice).  Maybe listen to some Dear Hank and John or some other podcast you like but that isn’t all about personal development, because as much as you love that type of thing, you know that if you're really upset that type of content can at times just feel pressuring to you.  So why don't you spend tonight doing something relaxing and cathartic that doesn’t require you to expend mental energy or analyze anymore tonight?  Why don't you drink some water?  You're probably dehydrated; you were having drinks for a while.  You probably weren't drinking enough water because you weren't paying attention.   Which is so understandable, but honey, you'll feel better if you drink some water.  Maybe eat something light before you go to bed and cuddle with your kitten a little bit?  Because she doesn't talk, she just loves you and that's wildly refreshing at the moment.   Don’t log onto social media tonight. Get to bed early and let yourself sleep in a little tomorrow.”   All sorts of good, non-judgmental internal guidance to ease the pain and take care of myself.

if you want to start small with a self-compassion practice, my best advice to is to pay really close attention and be really self-aware for the next couple days.  The next time you do something that you perceive as you screwing up or making a mistake, as soon as you start hearing those negative thoughts about yourself, ask yourself: “How would I talk to someone who did this that I had compassion for?  How would I talk to a girl that I didn't really know who made this mistake?  How would I talk to someone that I had compassion for?   How can I treat myself with humanity in this situation?”   Think those thoughts and replace the person you’re imaging speaking compassionately to with yourself.  It’s okay if those are two steps.  Early in my work on this, I would think it through using another hypothetical person first and then change it to myself second.  That's a stage for a lot of us and that's okay, but try to do it all in one sitting.   You might be surprised at how long it takes if this is something that you really struggle with and if negative self-talk is really ingrained for you.  You might be surprised at how easy it is if maybe self-compassion isn't one of the parts of self-love that you struggle with.  Everybody has different areas of this work that are more of a struggle for them and those that come more naturally.  

I do think this is the best place to start, and I think I can be really transformative in a short period of time.  For those who are ready to commit a little more to working on your self-compassion, try doing the above process for a week with every event like that.  Notice how it makes you feel, and at the end of the week, journal about how you feel at the end of the week when something goes wrong and how that differs from the way that you felt at the beginning of the week.  If you really want to get into the deep work with this, check out my Foundations course.   Foundations is where I really teach you this work from the ground up.   I go step by step with you and I go deep into all of these things.  There's only so much I can give you in these blog posts compared to how much I can give you in that format.  It's an investment with value and I hope you consider engaging with it if you want to do this work on a really deep level.   Feel free to comment with any questions or thoughts you have about self-compassion, and I’ll be back soon with the next Foundations series post, which will be centered around self-respect.