Showing compassion, either toward yourself or others, is not “weakness.”
It is not the case that the range of behaviors we can exhibit, either toward ourselves or others, exists on a simple continuum from “ruthless” to “compassionate.” And even if that was the case, it wold not the be case that “ruthlessness” requires more strength than “compassion.”
Compassion isn’t the “easy” road. In fact, experiencing and expressing compassion takes much more nuance, restraint, intelligence, and fundamental strength than mindless aggression.
Which makes it all the more curious to me that so many people take perverse pride in how hard they are on themselves. As if it takes some sort of special gumption to be ruthless toward ourselves, rather than compassionate.
I’ll spoil the surprise for you: there’s no fundamental virtue in being hard on yourself, at least not for the sake of being hard on yourself.
I’ll spoil the surprise further: there’s no fundamental weakness to being compassionate toward yourself.
When we say “compassion,” what do we really mean?
It has nothing to do with lowering our standards. Some people seem to think that “compassion” is code for “letting someone get away with subpar performance.” Nope.
It has nothing to do with making excuses, either. Some people seem to think that “compassion” means “letting someone off the hook with a lame explanation, because we don’t want them to feel bad.” Nuh uh.
When we’re compassionate toward someone, it’s not that we hold them to a lower standard or make excuses for them. Though I do suppose some people do those things in the name of compassion, because they either misunderstand the concept, or are looking for an easy way to explain their own choices.
Compassion means taking the time to understand someone’s story.
It means taking the time to understand someone’s experience.
It means extending to someone the benefit of the doubt.
It means affirming respecting and affirming someone’s right to exist— including their right to be imperfect.
We can do all of those things and STILL hold people to high standards, as well as refuse to let them make excuses. (In fact, I’d say lowering standards and/or accepting excuses aren’t particularly compassionate things to do, insofar as they set someone up for failure down the road.)
It means approaching someone from a position of fundamental kindness.
It seems, we hear a lot about the need to be “compassionate” toward our fellow human beings. From childhood on, we get messages from our culture, from our religions, from our elders, and from our media that we’re at least supposed to be compassionate toward others. Those who lack compassion for others get branded as “selfish,” “sociopathic,” or worse, depending on the context. (Though it’s also the case that we’re often presented with the case for being uncompassionate toward certain groups of humans, too— again, context seems to matter greatly when we’re being told how to feel about other people.)
But what about compassion toward ourselves?
Do we take the time to really understand our own story?
Do we make the effort to understand our own experience?
Do we affirm and respect our own right to exist— including our right to be imperfect?
Not often, it seems.
In fact, it often seems to be the case that, in our deification of “self discipline” (which, may I add, is an essential tool for personal growth— I have absolutely nothing bad to say about self-discipline in and of itself), we overlook the fact that, just as we would be considered monsters if we failed to show compassion toward our fellow human beings, we are also, ourselves, human beings, in desperate need of compassion in order to function, grow, and thrive.
Just as parents who fail to show compassion toward their children as they’re growing up, making mistakes, and learning to exist end up raising wounded people, we wound ourselves when we fail to approach ourselves from a position of fundamental kindness.
It is not weak to be kind.
It is not selfish to be self-compassionate.
If your goal is to thrive; to grow; to become a resilient human being who can function, laugh, emote, connect with others, and achieve…then self-compassion is more than a luxury.
It is a fundamental need.
Are you strong enough to meet that need?
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