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Self-Compassion depends on the notion of Self

Q: Why don’t we have compassion for ourselves? Or what causes us to lose compassion for ourselves?

Listen to this post or read the text below:

On one level, our mistake is in thinking that there is a separate self who needs our compassion.

When we realise that there is no separate self – that there is no fixed personal identity but only what appears as a brief glimpse into a complex continuum of events and innumerable factors that arise in a space and time, combinations of unimaginable elements, events, and circumstances – we can only have compassion for ourselves because of the pain of believing in this limited sense of self.

The second mistake in our thinking is that there is something wrong with us to begin with. This idea can only come from attachment to our false identity, what we call the ego, known as ahamkara – the ‘I’ maker of Indian philosophy.

We lack compassion for ourselves if we imagine a better, perfected version of who we think we are, along with a number of conditions for this perfection to be achieved. The problem is, because these conditions and notions of perfection are a product of the mind, they can’t be real so they are constantly fluctuating along with our mental state, and this imagined perfection will always be unattainable.

Our education, particularly within the family is a major factor in this. We are the ongoing product of a continuation of elements ranging from our individual families, our financial and social situation, our culture, our gender and much more – factors over which we had little or no control in our development as we were going up.

Compassion arises from understanding the suffering caused by such thoughts of a separate and flawed self.

Compassion for ourselves is only possible when we understand the insanity of believing that.

If we don’t have compassion for ourselves, we cannot have compassion for others. The ego will naturally object to this idea because it wants to be seen as thoughtful, loving, and compassionate.

What seems to go on in the privacy of our own mind sooner or later, covertly or overtly, will be reflected in our speech and actions. Critical and unhelpful thoughts towards ourselves are going to lead to actions towards ourselves AND others, which is why non-violence – ahimsa – must always begin with how we treat ourselves.

The truth is, we cannot feel for others what we don’t understand for ourselves. If we can recognise our suffering and really understand that what we perceive to be wrong with us is actually – paradoxically – an outgrowth of our own suffering, we can also see that in others. Through this understanding we increasingly recognise our similarities to one another and the apparent differences fade away.

Self-compassion can be confused with self-pity or feeling sorry for oneself, which might be another reason we find it hard to feel it. The difference is that pity means we still believe in the story, whereas compassion allows us to see that the suffering is due to precisely that.

Compassion is the first step to understanding any other human being and most especially ourselves. No psychological therapy or progress can be successful without a fundamental sense of compassion for oneself.

If parents were unable to see the child’s inherent perfection and only saw their offspring as a reflection of their own (possibly unfulfilled) goals, wishes, and desires, or worse, were dismissive, uncaring, or even abusive, then even as an adult one is more likely to feel a sense of insufficiency and even self-loathing without really knowing why.

The notion of self-compassion paints a very big picture, and in a future segment we will also look at our emotional connection to and relationship with our parents in order to understand how to see them and their suffering from a whole new perspective, allowing us to reconnect to this part of ourselves which may have been a lifelong source of suffering and shame.

With much love and compassion,
Susan