Learning Self-Compassion

Yesterday, I sat in a meeting for a wonderful organization called CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), whose mission it is to give abused or neglected children a voice in court.

This was a funding allocation meeting, so some of the CASA Board members (of which I am one) and volunteers, who work directly with the children, were in attendance, advocating for the program. One of the volunteers began speaking about why she decided to become a volunteer, and she openly shared that she was a victim of child sexual abuse–and, after reporting it to a trusted adult, she was dismissed, never getting the voice that all children deserve. Therefore, as an adult, she is now choosing to use her voice to advocate on behalf of children who need it…because she can, and because she knows what a difference it can make.

As I sat there listening to her story, I felt a lump form in my throat and my eyes well up. The amount of compassion and empathy that I felt for this woman sitting in front of me was huge. Not only could I relate to her story, but I also felt the desire to, somehow, relieve her suffering and let her know how amazing and courageous she was for sharing that story.

Empathy and compassion are not new ideas to me. I am, and always have been, a helper at my core. I believe–strongly–in helping and understanding people…which is why I ended up in the “helping” field (psychology) and it is also a big motivator for me as I continue my education to become a teacher.

…And YET. I have realized, over the course of the last 2 months (thanks to my counselor, who keeps pointing it out) that I lack compassion for myself.

In my life I have been through things. Some things that I have never given voice to…out of fear, out of the unknown, and out of judgment. As I have entered into the counseling process, I have begun to discuss some of these things–and, quite often, I find myself having difficulty saying them aloud…and NOT because I do not feel safe (quite the contrary, my therapist makes me feel totally and completely safe).

No…I think the real problem is that I am so hard on myself. While I can have oodles and oodles of empathy and compassion for the woman sharing her story in front of me, when I tell my own story aloud, I feel SHAME. I dismiss my feelings in comparison to what others go through (after all, there is always someone who has it worse than me!) and I really judge myself for needing–and wanting–others to know what I’ve been through and connect with me.

“I don’t want anyone to pity me,” I’ve said aloud.

Did I pity the woman sitting in front of me? No! I felt for her…I could relate to her. I wanted to help the child that she was…and I want to help and make a difference in the lives of children who go through terrible things today. But pity? No…compassion is not pity.

Learning to be kind to myself…to be gentle, and not judge ME is the hardest thing. Ignoring what has happened, and not giving myself the time to grieve or to feel angry…or to feel AT ALL…is not showing myself self-compassion.

I never realized that this is what I have been doing for so many years. I have give, give, given to so many others…and yet, I have rarely given to myself.

So, in the weeks and months ahead, this is one of my goals. I am going to try to treat myself like I would a close friend. I will not pity myself…I am not being selfish. No…I am learning, slowly, what it means to take care of ME.

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