Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The need for self-compassion

I've always tended to be a self-centered person. In truth, I think all humans are self-centered to some degree. I mean, some sort of self-awareness is crucial to survival, but I'm talking more about the putting one's own needs--emotionally, physically--before the needs of others on a regular basis.

The problem I've found with my own focus is that I'm more keenly aware of my faults and shortcomings than I am with those things I do well. Self-centeredness that looks only for what's wrong is not a good thing. It's caused me to be negative, critical, judgmental and pessimistic. It really is a self-defeating mode of operation. It causes me to sabotage myself, my relationships and my goals.

I've worked on having a more positive attitude, but it takes real effort. As my partner of 19 years once pointed out, "You wake up in the morning just waiting for something to make you happy." She was right. I was a grumpy person first thing in the morning, especially before coffee, and if nothing good or promising presented itself, I kinda stayed that way throughout the day. So I attempted to change that by waking up in the morning with a thankful attitude. It worked occassionally well, but didn't really get to the heart of the matter.

As a critical, self-centered person, I needed to become more mindful of the way I speak to myself. That only became evident when I picked up a book at the library, titled "tthe mindful path to self-compassion," written by Dr. Christopher K. Germer. He explains that our self-speak should be just as compassionate as it would be for anyone else who is hurting, struggling or deflated.

What a concept! Show myself the same compassion as I would show unto others.

I had never considered it. But it makes perfect sense. When I was most down on myself, I'd usually turn to others for compassion and a "pep talk." It only dawned on me after reading the introduction and opening chapter of the book that I could be doing this for myself. Instead of judging, criticizing or chastising myself, I could be more affirming, affectionate and kind. And instead of beating myself up all the time, I could show more grace and love.

To some, this may seem like a no-brainer, but for the self-defeating pessimist, this is a real eye-opener.

My aunt, a therapist, has spoken to me before about mindfulness and I've put it into practice on occasion. It usually involves me taking in my surroundings, appreciating the beauty of the environment and living totally in the moment. In the book, Dr. Germer gives some exercises in mindful meditation that take it even further. His meditative practices encourage you to focus on your senses, your physical and emotional responses to your environment.

I haven't taken all of that to heart nor put it into practice, yet. The idea of meditation is still somewhat foreign to me. I have a hard time shutting off my brain to the multitude of distractions that lie in my subconscious, but I do see the benefits to it.

Still, the mere concept of self-compassion has me rethinking how I deal with myself. I know that I can be kinder and gentler to myself. As a life-long, worst critic, I believe that I can change that and become my biggest fan. It will take a lot of effort, but I am committed to living the second act of my life differently than the first. The first step in that direction is self-compassion.

Am I self-centered? Yes. Is that a bad thing? No, not necessarily. The important lesson I'm learning is how to speak to myself with more love, understanding and compassion. And I do believe that this, in turn, will help me to love and understand others better, as well.