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Why Self-Compassion Can Be So Hard

Updated: Jul 5

In my personal healing and in the work I do with healing complex trauma survivors, I've noticed that the most effective healing tool is self-compassion, and yet this tool can feel SO HARD to access and develop.

The definition of compassion is to "suffer with or suffer together". Compassion is what allows us to lean in to what another is feeling, rather than lean away. Compassion drives the action we take in response to the empathy we feel for someone else's suffering. Compassion says, "I am here with you. I am here beside you." Compassion is our desire to help or support another in a time of need.

Often the ways that we relate to ourselves are rooted in the ways we were related to. Self-compassion is derived from relational compassion - having had multiple experiences where our need and suffering were related to with empathy and support. Self-compassion can be hard to practice when we lack those important relational experiences. Instead, it may feel more familiar to relate to our need and suffering with shame, disgust, abandonment, isolation, punishment, criticism, minimization, or denial. In fact, we may notice that they mimic the ways we have been treated by others. On the other hand, those who have received relational compassion, who have had experiences where their suffering and need was acknowledged, validated, and supported, often find self-compassion much more accessible.

As I write that, I hear the grief inside those relational losses - the deep and unmet need for empathy and compassion from the significant people in our lives. I think this is also why developing self-compassion can be so difficult. Self-compassion carves out space for that grief to emerge. It asks us to acknowledge our suffering, that can feel really overwhelming when our grief and suffering is very layered due to years of suppression.

Sometimes when we attempt to practice self-compassion and we encounter the internalized shame and disgust or the deep and wide nature of our grief, it can feel like a signal to stop, that it isn't working. Perhaps what we can understand is that in the face of our developing self-compassion our history is speaking, our wounds are aching, our grief is emerging.

For this reason, we often need that relational compassion alongside our growing self-compassion. We need a model for an empathetic response. We need experience with someone meeting us in our suffering. We need practice tolerating being seen in our need. We need to practice being open to and receptive to care, learning that it can be safe.

I hope today's post brings compassion to the difficulty of practicing self-compassion.🙃 Sometimes we need to take that step first - talking about and feeling around what makes it hard to start the practice - because then we know that its hard, not because we are doing it wrong or because we are failures or because we aren't trying hard enough or because we aren't healed enough, it is hard because we weren't taught how to do it. We're learning how to do and that is hard work. A self-compassion practice is seeking that empathy and healing action in the face of all that history and grief. (Ooooof! What a way to end of post! 💛)

Reflection Questions:

  1. Why does self-compassion feel hard for you?

  2. In what ways do you currently relate to your own suffering and need? Where did you learn that?

  3. What is one way you are currently practicing self-compassion?

Resources That Could Be Helpful:

  1. Curious about growing your self-compassion practice? I'd suggest Why Is Self Love So Hard? - a guide that teaches about core needs and how we begin to meet them in a slow and gradual way. You learn about the self-love skills map and how we work with self-rejection. ($4)

  2. Breaking Free From The Cycle Of Stuck - this workbook helps you understand the impacts of trauma and how they contributed to the powerlessness and shame. It offers recovery tools and modalities that address the underlying issues to help you move forward. ($12)

  3. Befriending Your Body Somatic Self Care Video Guide - In this guide, we use 16 somatic practices to begin developing a gentle relationship with our bodies and emotions. We work with our protective defenses including the inner critic. We use embodied approaches to deepen self-compassion. (Payment Plans Available)

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Oof. Thanks for calling me out. But yea, it’s hard to be kind and compassionate to myself when those things were so infrequently shown to me by others.

Sara Aird
Sara Aird
Jul 03
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