Compassion, when applied to the self, has always been a concept that’s made me squirm slightly. It feels like a soft, weak, self-absorbed thing. My biases aside, self-compassion is a concept that has been gaining some popularity and utility in psychotherapy. The reason for this is that we actually need to have some sort of stable base of support within ourselves in order to be flexible and resilient in the face of stressors.
Self-compassion is sometimes misunderstood as self-pity, and I think my discomfort lies in the confusion of these terms in myself. Self-compassion is the kind and generous acceptance of whatever’s going on inside you. It is to bear companion and witness to pain and joy equally. It is not possible to always be self-compassionate, but the more we are able to hold this stance, particularly in the face of adversity, the more we are able to pass through intact. If self-compassion had a voice in the midst of difficulty, it might say something simple like, “Here I stand in the turbulence of this moment.”
Self-pity on the other hand, is fusion with or absorption in the undesirable aspects of our situation. It is an over focus and over emphasis on the self, without awareness of the wider context of our experiences and the world around us. If self-pity had a voice, it might say, “Here I am alone and discarded.”
While both statements may be true in their own ways, self-compassion tends to have more functional utility. In other words, it is more helpful. We can know whether we are being self-compassionate by noticing the words we use with ourselves and others. How do we describe a situation to our friends? How do we talk to ourselves? If our feelings had a voice, what would they say? From there, we start to build an understanding of how helpful we are to ourselves.