Compassion is the simple quality of acknowledging that someone is in pain or struggling. It’s what empowers us to bring our caring attention to suffering without looking away or ignoring it, and it gives us the courage to alleviate it in whatever way we can. Most of us understand this quite well, and commonly offer our beautiful hearts to soothe whoever needs it—friends, family, and animals, even strangers and people we don’t like. But we often forget to include a very important person in our circle of compassion—ourselves.
Self-compassion means offering yourself the same kindness and caring that you so generously give to others. It means that when you’re feeling sad, lonely, scared, or in pain, you take the time to listen to yourself with openness and patience, and remind yourself that you’re here for you. Self-compassion helps you understand what you truly need to be healthy and well, and to give it to yourself, without guilt or shame. If you notice that you’re exhausted, you might go to bed earlier. If you’re angry at something that happened at work, you can experience the hurt and upset that you’re feeling without acting out of it or ignoring it. If you’re in physical or emotional pain but you’re embarrassed to ask for help, compassion helps you use your good sense to take care of you and reach out to your resources—friends, family, colleagues, or community.
Self-compassion isn’t selfish because it doesn’t mean we deserve more than anyone else. It means that we deserve the same as everyone else.
You might have been taught that a “good” person puts other people’s needs above their own, or that you should always take care of others even if it’s at your own expense. But self-compassion includes using our wisdom and discernment to recognize what is harmful, and to avoid it. It allows us to say to “I love you and no,” to a family member who is upsetting you or even to ourselves if we’re being self-destructive or self-critical. Self-compassion isn’t selfish because it doesn’t mean we deserve more than anyone else. It means that we deserve the same as everyone else: for our struggles to be recognized, understood, and treated with understanding and love.
Meditation for Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is an ability that can be developed with practice, and one way to do this is through lovingkindness meditation for yourself and others. Try this brief meditation the next time you’re feeling upset, misunderstood, or hard on yourself:
Find a quiet spot, get still, and take a few deep breaths. Shut off your devices, stop talking, and just sit for a couple minutes and let yourself rest. When you’re ready, put your hand on your heart and imagine someone who loves you easily. This might be a pet, a relative, an old friend, a teacher or therapist. Then silently repeat these phrases to them, "May you care for yourself with ease. May you be at peace." After a few minutes, let go of this person and connect with yourself. You can imagine you’re looking in the mirror, and say silently to yourself, "May I care for myself with ease. May I be at peace." Finally, consider all of us struggling humans everywhere, and say silently to the collective, "May we care for ourselves with ease. May we be at peace."