When I tell people all the reasons why they should give themselves lots of compassion, some of them do. But others don’t. They may try, and they may even think that they’re giving themselves compassion, but they aren’t.
For a long time, I have wondered how to help that second group of people so they too can experience the peace and the healing that results from self-compassion.
One answer became clear to me recently when a good friend, whom I’ll call Jane, finally understood how to give herself compassion, three years after I saw that she would benefit a lot from doing that because of the illness she was dealing with, and told her so.
She told me how helpful truly giving herself compassion was and how good it felt to finally be able to do that. And in response to my question about why learning to do that took so long, she had two answers. The first was that she thought she actually was giving herself compassion, even though I told her many times that it didn’t look like it to me.
Her second answer touched me very deeply, and I will never forget it. I knew that her father had died recently, that she loved him very much, and that she had a very complicated relationship with him. But while she knew he had punished her a lot when she was growing up, she was not able to admit to herself that she had been very badly abused. What had happened to her was that until she was 17, her father had beaten her every day after he came home from work for her transgressions that day, no matter how minor.
While she wasn’t consciously aware of it, admitting that she needed and deserved compassion would have been admitting that her father had done that to her. It took her three years and her father’s death to be able to do that.
Once she did, she was able to give herself compassion – and her tears started to come and she began healing.
Having worked with people with chronic illness for more than 10 years, I have found that like Jane, many had been abused. Maybe you were too. But whether you were or not, if you are finding it hard to give yourself compassion, I strongly encourage you to look and see if things happened to you in the past that you haven’t fully let in and acknowledged. And if you find them, do acknowledge and let them in, so that you too can start giving yourself the compassion you need and deserve.
One final reminder: giving yourself compassion is not a one-time event; it is an ongoing practice, I encourage you to continue for the rest of your life.