A Little Self-Compassion


June 24, 2020

We put a premium on effective communication. Listening, empathizing, respecting, choosing the right words, projecting confidence, etc., do indeed lead to better relationships and more business opportunities. The positive correlation between effective communication and success is easy to establish. Individuals and businesses, through their lives and successes, have shown us how to walk the talk.

Despite the omnipresence of evidence, our communication takes an ugly turn just when we need to hold our tongue. We can’t swallow the impulse to humiliate others. Empathy is easier said than done. Respecting others costs our ego; not everyone is ready to pay the price.

Knowing and doing are rarely on the same wavelength, making our knowledge irrelevant.

Imagine then, how we talk to ourselves, given that neither anyone is listening to our self-talks nor do we have to seemingly pay any price for our internal dialogues. There are reasonably high chances that your inner-voice serves you a diet rich in self-criticism. You are convinced that the diet provides you the nutrients necessary to win the race.

The voice is both right and wrong. Right because it gives you a chance to tap the latent potential in self-criticism. Wrong because the voice tells you that criticizing yourself is the most effective way to unleash your potential. It tells you about the 1% who succeeded but not about the 99% who didn’t. Through its glib talks, the voice blocks your access to your higher self.

Ignore criticism. Embrace compassion.

Scoff at me. But let me tell you that there is nothing more important than taking care of the “I.” The benevolent “We” is not so proud of the individualistic I. But unless the I is fine, the We can’t be well. Those I-shaming theories make an assumption that a focus on the self is a selfish behavior. The I is ruthlessly criticized for being I and branded narcissistic for life. Narcissism is too complex an affair to be simplified to I.

When you respond to the most rhetorical question “How are you” by saying that “I am good,” you better ensure that the I is good.

“Take care.”

Mean what you say every day. Take care.

Treat the I with compassion. No anti-aging cream, no deadlift, no book, no partner, no penthouse, no robot, no success can do so better than you.

James, a 53-year-old C-Suite leader from New Jersey, was unhappy though he had everything one could wish for—a loving family, name, fame, and wealth. He failed to understand why he didn’t like himself.

There was a lurking fear of failure in him. The constant pressure to deliver results; the regular barrage of critical comments from the people sitting at the top turned his mind into a sponge that selectively absorbed everything wrong with him. No matter how trivial those comments were, he would go on a self-doubt trip from which he would take a lot of time to return. He would, thus, be left with little mental space to savor the blessings of life.

He didn’t know how to treat himself with compassion, though he preached positive thinking. He didn’t know how to talk to himself without pointing out his shortcomings and ruminating on them.

Asha, a beautiful lady from New Delhi, started believing that she was ugly. Few professional downturns made her hate the mirror. There is apparently no connection between the two but there is more to it than meets the eye. She had always been considered a successful professional, but the unexpected string of failures made her feel worthless. After months of self-analysis, she couldn’t explain her failures. Thereby, she scapegoated her looks. Her self-esteem plunged into the cracked ground beneath her feet.

She identified herself as a compassionate woman in her introductory note, and in the course of discussions narrated how, in college, she had saved a girl from committing suicide. In her own words, she had taught the girl how to be kind to herself. When I asked her why she was a hypocrite, she was taken aback. She understood why, nevertheless.

Criticism is easy. Most people excel in self-criticism.

Compassion is hard. It requires setting empathy in motion.

Self-compassion is harder. You need to reach your higher self, which is not so easily accessible. You need to distance yourself from your feelings and emotions, and extend compassion to the I you see from a metaphorical distance.

Talking to the I with kindness is the best place to start.

Talk to yourself as you would talk to your baby when she cries in the middle of the night. Your unconditional love for her isn’t reserved for the moments when she is a bundle of cuteness.

Talk to yourself as you would talk to your best friend who recently lost his job. You would hug him and tell him that this, too, shall pass.

Talk to yourself as you would talk to your mother in physical pain. You would sit by her side, hold her hands, and take care of her.

Talk to yourself as you would talk to the individuals you admire, despite their frailties. You would keep aside your self-righteousness and appreciate their talent.

Talk to yourself in second person.

Not “I am not giving up.”

“You are not giving up, Partha.”

Take a pen and a paper. Write. Write to communicate. With the feelings hidden underneath the superficial “I am good.” With the negative emotions that have unfairly been denied their right to exist. With the uncontrollable impulses suffering from identity crisis. With the thoughts scattered all over the brain. With the ego which never seems to suffer from a bad day. With the goal-turned-mirage. With the dreams you call “just kidding.” With the unconscious buried deep within. With the inner audience trying to shame the host. With the past refusing to make peace with the present.

Write to travel from denial to acceptance. Often the dirt in your mind is stronger than the love in your heart. Self-acceptance cleanses the tinted glasses; it paves the way to see yourself clearly for who you are.

Write to find yourself.

When you find yourself speaking the language of kindness with yourself, you shall see the common thread of pain and suffering that connects the world. You shall understand that your problems aren’t privileged. You shall celebrate the small joys in the journey of your life. You shall discover how you love many people and how many people love you in ways that can’t be accurately described by the word “love” alone. You shall feel grateful for the gift of life.

Little by little, you shall find your own means to self-compassion.

Your higher self, in time, shall find you.


*James and Asha aren’t the real names of the individuals.

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