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Compassion for Yourself

I often hear students say they have more difficulty with self-empathy than empathy for others.

What makes it so hard?  Let's look at things that might get in your way and what helps:

1.    You might have a set of  standards for how you "should" be that you don't hold as true for others.  Usually these standards are unconscious, but you are continually comparing yourself to them.  You can uncover your standards by looking at the various roles you play in life – daughter, employee, father, student, spiritual person, etc., and ask yourself what you expect from yourself in each of these roles.

2.    Self-empathy requires time, focus, and a willingness to step into the pain of the situation.  We live in a culture that values distraction as a remedy for suffering.  It seems easier in the moment to just turn away from the situation and go see a movie and not think about it until the emotion has dissolved due to the passage of time.  Giving yourself empathy means that when you feel some negative feeling (or positive) you move towards it by asking:  What needs are up for me?  What am I telling myself right now?  What happened that triggered those thoughts?

3.    Self-empathy also requires skill and knowledge.  The skill is to really hold your mind and heart on the one event and the feelings and needs connected to it.  Your "monkey mind" can get in the way - jumping from branch to branch –analyzing, theorizing about the future, remembering other similar situations, etc.  It takes some practice to tame your monkey mind and help it settle on your feelings and needs.  The knowledge is having a vocabulary for feelings and needs and recognizing them in yourself.

Take a moment now and commit to one way you would like to begin a practice of self-empathy.  Make it specific like:  write down three standards you compare yourself to, choose one situation each day for which you write down your feelings and needs, or take a few minutes each day just to practice sitting still physically and mentally.  Choose a focus point like your breath, a sensation in heart, or something else and stay with it for five minutes every day.

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