One of my most favorite self-practices now but that was the hardest to learn and utilize was compassion for myself and then for others. The dictionary defines compassion as “sympathetic pity and concern for suffering and misfortune”. As a trauma survivor, once you are able to fully recognize what sufferings and misfortune you have endured, you can start to realize how much compassion you deserve. Once you can see your inner suffering, really truly see it, you will begin to understand how important this self-compassion thing is. If you heard your own story of trauma and abuse but from a friend, you would immediately grasp how much compassion they are due. You may even be able to look from the outside in at some of their life choices and coping mechanisms without judgment but more of “sympathetic pity”. You may want to hug your friend, cry with them, feel angry at their abusers, and try to help your friend heal.
You see, compassion is a motivating factor in how much care, grace, and love we give to others. Self-compassion, when truly felt in our being, is a motivation to give ourselves allowance for failures and give ourselves kindness. That is what is so powerful about this practice. It also makes it the most difficult. By sheer humanness, your abuse and trauma actually made you feel worse about yourself, especially from early childhood neglect. Once a survivor has learned to turn on themselves as the “bad ones”, “deserving of abuse”, “worthless”, or “unlovable”, they are now locked in a cycle of self-hatred, feelings of unimportance, depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. Even after the trauma and abuse has stopped, us survivors can be stuck wallowing in distaste for ourselves — which actually re-traumatizes our own self over and over. One of the mental tolls of trauma is the ongoing self-degradation that we learn from our abusers.
Having a felt sense of compassion (truly understanding what happened to you and allowing yourself to feel pity for yourself) can begin to repair all these fears, maladaptive coping skills, and mistrust of yourself. Embodying self-compassion literally unclouds your judgment of yourself. Imagine being in the grocery store, and you see a young woman rushing around paying more attention to her phone than the direction of her shopping cart. She stops in the middle of the aisle to text, looks lost and disheveled, seemingly not seeing all the other people trying to go around her. You’d be annoyed, most likely. You’d want to tell her off as you pass her — “I’ve been watching you since produce — you are knocking things over and getting in everyone’s way!!” However, if you REALLY watch her and actually take time to SEE her, maybe you’d realize the tears in her eyes. Turns out that she is running around quickly to find some dinner for her children after leaving the hospital where her mother just passed away. She’s stressed; she’s got family texting and calling her, yet she still has to get dinner for her small kids at home waiting. Once you can know her pain and suffering, your whole perspective on her “annoying” behavior changes. Now you find yourself feeling badly for even being frustrated with her, and now you want to help her or give her some encouragement or maybe a hug. Maybe you want to pay for her groceries or tell her you know what’s she’s going through because you lost your mom too. THAT’s why Compassion is transformative. That shift in how you perceive someone who’s been through something — that’s where you remember your humanness and how you would feel if you were them. Judgment ceases, and powerful concern, care, and love come rushing in.
Now — apply that situation to YOURSELF — your traumatized, abused, neglected, hurting self. Sit with that and feel it in your bones. How can we learn to love ourselves? Self-Compassion. How can we be motivated to seek therapeutic help? Self-Compassion. How can we be gentler with ourselves as we heal? Self-Compassion. When will the cycle of self-hatred, self-blame, and unworthiness be broken? When we learn self-compassion.
Compassion will never give you a pass to play the victim or hurt someone else or act out of revenge. Compassion will always lead with more love for yourself so you can love others even greater. That’s why I say it’s my favorite personal practice and also was the hardest to fully embody. It is SO easy to berate myself. It is SO easy for that inner critic to flood to the surface and tell me I’m pointless, worthless, unnecessary, stupid, fat, and ugly (sometimes all that same time). AND THEN … my learned self-compassion practice bubbles over ALL those voices, all that noise, and comes to my rescue to remind myself that I’m a work in progress, that I’m learning and growing, that I’m not JUST doing the best I can but that I’m doing a damn good job. A compassionate wellspring inside you will flood out all the neglect, emotional abuse, and other learned mechanisms that are still trying to hold you down.
It’s tough to learn fully, but it’s easy to start. Try by filling your tank every morning with some compassion before you are annoyed with yourself or triggered or stressed out — like kind talk, affirmations, looking earnestly at yourself in the mirror, hugging yourself, doing one nice thing for yourself, closing your eyes envisioning warmth and love surround you. You will then spend the day with a friend on your side helping you battle the forces of evil that are trying to be annoyed with you, hating you, making you feel like nothing. If you can start with a morning routine of loving yourself in whatever way feels good to you, you can be on your way to fully embodied LOTS of chances to fill your self-compassion tank back up even throughout a difficult day. It’s a practice that is for sure! In fact, one of the first chances you’ll get to test this out is when you start noticing yourself being mean to yourself for failing at self-compassion! It’s then actually your trauma brain and your new learned compassion brain battling each other. That’s a great sign because you are recognizing that you failed and yet the compassion is STILL coming to your rescue.
Compassion will be a warrior to remind you how far you’ve come. Compassion will forgive you when you fall back into an old coping skill or break your boundaries. Compassion will ride in like a knight in shining armor with a fresh wind of understanding that (yes) while you have a ways more to go in your post-traumatic healing, (but yes) you have already come a very long way. Compassion will quiet your inner critic and start replacing it with an inner cheerleader. Compassion will allow you to re-father and re-mother yourself. Compassion makes room for mistakes. Compassion gets you to your trauma coach or therapy appointment so you can keep healing your inner child.
Compassion takes hard work, but the reward is immeasurable. Self-loathing is also a lot of draining energy work but with no benefit at the end of that tunnel. Choose self-compassion. Learning to love yourself is one of your most powerful weapons on this healing journey.