Padre’s Corner: Growing stronger through self-compassion

St. Brendan’s Chapel at Stadacona. CFB HALIFAX

Padre’s Corner: Growing stronger Through self-compassion

By Padre Capt Robin Major, 

Compassion can be described as treating others as we would like to be treated, and self-compassion involves treating ourselves as we would treat a good friend in a time of need. Let’s explore some of the myths about self-compassion and how it can be a way to grow stronger and healthier. 

There are a number of myths about self-compassion to address. The first is that self-compassion makes us weak and less able to cope. The research shows that it does involve our weakness and vulnerability, yet it actually strengthens us by positively changing our emotional state, and by moving us from denying to working through disruptive emotions.

Others believe self-compassion makes us complacent or unmotivated. In fact, compassion gives us the ability to confront our lack of motivation in a healthy way, that acknowledges our regrets and frees us from being stuck in them. More broadly speaking, the validating aspect of self-compassion is in the long term a significantly stronger motivator than negative criticism. It is not that self-compassion involves no criticism. Rather, there is a particular tone of approach which makes self-compassion so effective towards oneself and by extension, towards others. 

Another myth is that self-compassion is both selfish and an exercise in self-pity, or feeling sorry for yourself. Regarding selfishness, self-compassion is a kind of focus on oneself that helps one break out of selfishness. The non-judgmental aspect of self-compassion can both calm self-centered concern and open oneself to a shared feeling of kindness towards others. Applying this to self-pity, self-compassion is actually an antidote to self-pity, making us more willing to accept our difficult feelings and thus allowing us to more easily process them. 

Let us return to our original notion of compassion and self-compassion – treating others as we would like to be treated or treating ourselves as we would treat a good friend.. I invite you to take a moment to consider what this would mean for you. Firstly, what is the standard of kindness and respect you’d like to be treated by? Do you treat others by this standard? You can’t control in many ways how others act, but you can set a standard with your own actions based on what you would like in return, and you can feed those relations that meet this standard to your benefit.

Secondly, imagine treating yourself as you would treat a friend in a time of need. To test this, simply think of a good friend who was in this type of situation, and recall how you spoke to them. While tough love has its place, when someone is really suffering, do you offer tough love, or perhaps a gentle listening ear? Turning this around, bring to mind a difficult situation you are facing or have recently faced that you turned to a friend or family member to talk about it. How did they speak to you? Likely in a comforting way that was unique to the person. Now, how about if you simply imagined yourself in a time of difficulty yourself, without anyone to speak with. Why not be that kind and validating compassionate friend to yourself, talking with yourself as both a suffering and compassionate voice? This is the essence of self-compassion, which like any skill requires practice. 

Best wishes in growing your compassionate voice. It will make you stronger and healthier in the face of life’s challenges.