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Welcoming Compassion for the Self

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Before we can develop a genuine capacity for offering ourselves compassion, we must be able to acknowledge how self-loathing lives in us and be able to interrupt it (See "Getting Mindful About Self-Loathing"). Let's look at some concrete methods for fostering self-compassion.

*Interrupting the Purposes of Our Self-loathing -- The purpose of our self-loathing might be to remain risk-averse. We accomplish that by deciding we are some form of low-life and therefore only unfavorable consequences can result from a risk we take, so why take it? Let's explore the alleged wisdom behind that purpose with several important considerations: Is it possible to be fully alive and risk averse? If we can't live by making just the right number of mistakes, then we either choose to make too many mistakes or not enough. We might say that making not enough mistakes is equivalent to an unlived life. Can it be that the only way to be fully alive is to make too many mistakes? If that's true then to live life on life's terms translates into making peace with risks and bringing forgiveness and grace to making mistakes.

*Prioritizing Self-Forgiveness -- Welcoming compassion for the self is highly dependent upon getting serious about self-forgiveness. Ultimately, forgiving ourselves means restoring our essential goodness after making a mistake or violating our own values. The forgiveness process begins by deepening our understanding of how we came to perpetrate some transgression. It may be important to consider whether an amends or restitution is due someone we have offended. We offer these only when we believe it would not create grater harm to ourselves or to the injured party. Prioritizing self-forgiveness includes searching for enough humility in order to accept our mistake as an expression of the human condition, and as such is not an aberration of what it means to be a person.

*Damaged Goods Is Only a Name We Give Ourselves -- It is critical to begin distinguishing who we are from the names we give ourselves. Self-loathing can generate a myriad of demeaning names. Self-deprecating names are only names. They do not ultimately define us. The issue is whether or not we are ready to stop naming ourselves in self-abusive ways.

*Creating An Internal Social Worker -- When a Social Worker from the Department of Children and Families visits a parent who has been identified as abusive to children, there are no acceptable explanations for the abuse. The mandate is "Stop it! And do whatever it takes to stop it!" We need to develop such an inner Social Worker who responds in the same manner when we get self-abusive. Welcoming self-compassion will depend upon a dedicated inner Social Worker.

*Taking the Responsibility for Loving Ourselves -- It is not unusual to get stuck in an infantile pattern of expecting friends, lovers, and family to be primarily responsible for loving us. Welcoming compassion means being radically responsible for our essential worth, not waiting for someone to do it for us. Significant others can help us to remain responsible for our self-worth by being encouraging and supportive.

*Maintaining a Self-Nurturing Vigilance -- We remain vigilant by keeping a watchful eye upon the emergence of self-abuse and self-neglect. In place of these injurious forms of treatment, we focus on being self-nurturing. Both self-compassion and self-trust are deepened through this nurturing process. We trust ourselves when we believe we are willing to know the truth about how we treat ourselves and what we need, as well as believing we will treat ourselves kindly. Self-nurturing is expressed in several ways:

1) Commit to living a self-examining life. This commitment sheds light on what we believe, what we need and what we love. At its best, we remain curious about how we are meeting our needs for safety, work and play, friendship, loving and being loved.

2) Able to identify a need for support and access it. It is deeply self- nurturing to be able to identify our limits and learn to ask for help, in order to create the life we believe in.

3) Able to create effective boundaries. Good boundaries accomplish two tasks. The first is safety. Bodily protection is one form of safety where we are able to identify potential danger and take appropriate defensive action. There is also protection for our autonomy or individuality. This form of boundary happens as we say "yes" and "no" authentically. This means that our responses genuinely reflect our beliefs, values or desires. A desire to please is typically a significant threat to good boundaries. The second and more sophisticated task is being discriminating so our boundaries can be porous enough to allow ourselves to be touched, moved and loved by others, and yet strong enough so we are not defined by others.

4) Developing Self-Intimacy. This happens by paying attention to who we are in a gentle way, holding a soft gaze as we observe ourselves. Similar to deepening a connection to a significant other, we hold the intention to feel closer to ourselves. There are several ways we can become more invitational to ourselves. One example is that we can open to both our interior and exterior sensations. We honor internal sensations by paying attention to changes in temperature, tightness, pounding, jitteriness, throbbing, energy radiating or feeling a sense of fullness. This inner activity is often the early stirrings of instinct, intuition and imagination. Our external sensations (sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste) place us in relationship to the physical world. They allow us to learn from the world, help us to enjoy it and at the same time protect us from it.

We can also become intimate with our behavior as we observe how we act and become curious about our intentions and how congruent our actions are with our needs and values. We can also get closer to the meaning of our lives by tracking the stories we create about others and ourselves.

From the very start of our lives we are encouraged to take seriously our relationships with others. Welcoming compassion for the self happens only when we take our relationship with ourselves seriously. If we neglect or forget about ourselves, self-trust diminishes and we lose a resiliency to meet life's challenges. It's like trying to problem-solve or collaborate with a total stranger. An important reminder is that we will likely not live feeling neutral about ourselves. We either commit to a compassionate self-relationship or fall victim to self-loathing.