“The chemist who can extract from his heart’s elements compassion, respect, longing, patience, regret, surprise, and forgiveness and compound them into one can create that atom which is called love.” — Khalil Gibran
Have you ever wondered why some people seem happy and content in their own skin? In contrast, do you know those who are miserable and pessimistic? How about you? What is your predominant outlook towards life? Do you like yourself? Feel worthy? Struggle with confidence? These are questions we seldom contemplate until life overwhelms us. Yet, if we don’t make time for self-enquiry, we will be overcome with emotional grief when we least expect it. I wish to explore self-acceptance and self-compassion in this article, two important factors for optimal living. From the time we are children, we are faced with some form of emotional abandonment, leaving us with a less-than-positive mental script. We can be hard on ourselves and that unkindness permeates into other areas of our life, leading towards a destructive path.
Emotional abandonment means to run away from fulfilling our emotional needs like self-love and self-acceptance. Even young children will entertain thoughts as: “I don’t like myself” and “I’m not worthy” and carry these thoughts throughout their lives. What does a young child know about forming such judgements when they’re barely old enough to reason with the world? Perhaps your emotional needs were not met as a child and you developed low self-esteem? This is a common scenario, where children believe they are unworthy well before developing a self-identity. They mature into adults only to bottle up their pain or cover it up with: addictions, unhealthy relationships, hollow success, or material possessions. This poses a threat to one’s emotional wellbeing, because living like this makes for a miserable existence and leads to: depression, severe anxiety, mental health disorders and tremendous pain. In her book Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, author and transformational psychotherapist Linda Graham MFT explains why self-compassion and understanding are essential to overcome our emotional wounds: “True understanding and compassionate self-acceptance are especially necessary when there are parts of ourselves that are still caught in negative stories about what has happened to us—parts that still feel invisible, misunderstood, not accepted, or a failure.”
Healing Inner Wounds
“Your problem is you’re too busy holding onto your unworthiness.” — Ram Dass
Countless people with low self-worth have faced their inner struggles and learned to love themselves. They were vulnerable and faced their insecurities and disappointments to learn self-compassion and acceptance. In fact, a part of an adult’s journey often leads them to face the darkness to walk in the light. Sometimes personal growth requires walking through pain to discover a fertile oasis ahead. “The first step we need to take on the path toward self-compassion is to embrace the most simple and basic fact that when our emotional immune systems are weak we should do everything in our power to strengthen them, not devastate them even further,” affirms psychologist Guy Winch.
Everyone encounters some form of pain on their life’s journey. It begins in childhood and continues throughout life and none are immune to it. How we respond to our inner wounds will determine our attitude and actions throughout life. To illustrate this point, consider the Buddhist tale of a man shot in the chest by an arrow. While the pain was immense, the Buddha pointed out how much greater the pain would have been if he was shot by a second arrow in the same spot. This lesson illustrates that despite intense pain or suffering, when we add a second arrow of judgment about our experience, we intensify the pain. Inner wounds can lead to self-persecution. We believe: “I must deserve this” or “I’ll never be good enough” and this keeps us trapped in unworthiness. We can be hard on ourselves at times, not realising it’s possible to respect who we are, despite our pain. To learn self-love and self-compassion begins with appreciating our worthiness. I trust this is an idea that appeals to you? I can assure you, bathing in your own love is greater than any material object, person or experience is likely to offer you.
Consider the advice echoed by renowned author and social researcher Brené Brown who writes in Rising Strong: “When we practice self-compassion, we are compassionate toward others. Self-righteousness is just the armor of self-loathing.” You matter. You are worthy. You can love yourself and treat yourself with compassion. While it’s wonderful to treat others with compassion, do you treat yourself the same way? Do you take pride in yourself? Cut yourself slack from time to time? Believe in yourself? Are you aware of the inner critic that tells you otherwise? Self-compassion does not mean feeling sorry for yourself and it is not self-pity. It means developing a nurturing relationship with yourself foremost. Similarly, self-compassion is not a sign of weakness. It implies being your own guardian, best friend and healer instead of critic. It’s considered that self-compassion and self-acceptance are essential ingredients to living a fulfilling life, more so than high self-esteem.
The roots of self-compassion stem from our earliest recollection of our caregiver environment. So, it makes sense we learn to connect with these nurturing qualities to provide the loving kindness we deserve. Self-compassion and self-acceptance means to eliminate expectations of oneself. It starts with the smallest gesture of loving yourself when you’re angry, scared, confused or tired. We cultivate a supportive inner dialogue instead of allowing the inner critic to take hold. We learn to embrace our worthiness. It begins by gazing into the mirror and declaring you are worthy of love. Notice the feelings and sensations that arise as you make the declaration. Some people are brought to tears while others delight in the self-affirming dialogue. You become your own best friend and soul mate. Scouring the globe for your soul mate begins at home standing in front of a mirror, confirming your complete acceptance of self: your flaws and your assets. No one is perfect and you’re no exception. Embrace and love yourself without reservation. Life will make sense because you will be in tune with your authentic self, which is Love at the core of your being.