Are You Compassionate?

man in sunset holding arms outstretched

Today I started writing about the power of love, which morphed into thoughts about compassion.  My association with compassion was that it is something that I offer to another in a sad situation.  When I mention “compassion” to clients, they are most likely to apply it to others too.  An unheralded and powerful gift is compassion to oneself. 

How does it work?  In reviewing life experiences, I encounter many incidences of where I didn’t put my best foot forward.  It is so clear NOW of how far off the mark I was.  I see the consequences of my actions for myself and/or another and regret what I did or didn’t do.  This often starts one down the road to blame, shame, and/or guilt—a dead end rather than transformation.

The alternative, which seems too good to be true OR too good to try on, is compassion for the younger version of myself.  I was a less experienced person who made a choice contradictory to who I am today and maybe who I knew myself to be at the time.  Compassion is really an aspect of self-love and self-care.  What I hear equally as often is that self-love is a form of selfishness.  It’s not and never can be.  Selfishness has nothing to do with love.  It is about self-importance, a stranger to love.  I think that it is a disservice to the word “love” to use it to describe putting on blinders to others.

Let’s look at what happens when blame and shame garners our attention.  Typically if I am feeling shame about something, it is just an awful experience that I want to escape.  It feels too awful to stay there.  Usually, staying there is a form of punishment, even when we say it’s reality rather then punishment.  Forms of escape can be denial of what happened or the consequences, numbness through some substance, or blaming someone else.  Each allows us to quit feeling shame for the time being.  None allows us to heal.

Sometimes, self-compassion takes in the circumstances.  This is not a way of making excuses.  It is a way of observing the circumstances that contributed to my action or reaction.  It can be a way of learning when I am more likely to find myself behaving contrary to how I want.  It can be a step toward keeping myself out of repeating that behavior, e.g. I may say “no” to becoming too tired or too hungry.  It can also be a step toward discovering how and when I developed this way of being or acting.  It can lead the way to acknowledging when this began and was what I came up with at the time.

Maybe I didn’t know better.  Maybe it seemed like the only choice when I couldn’t see any other.  Maybe it was consistent with my worldview at the time.  Maybe my choices seemed so limited that this was the best that I could do.  Maybe I didn’t believe what I had been told and had to find out for myself.  Maybe I was rebelling.  Maybe anything. What is really important is that I acknowledge it, relegate it to the past, and allow myself to be the person that I want to be today.