A common but frequently unrecognized side effect of traumatic life experiences is an excessive harshness toward oneself, which often coexists with a healthy degree of care and concern for others. While this harshness toward oneself can be expressed in a multitude of ways, a commonality is the existence of different standards for yourself than the standards held of others. Be it standards regarding fairness, worth, acceptability, or love, the standards for yourself can be far more stringent, unrealistic, and possibly unattainable. Phrased another way, you judge yourself with more rigorous criteria than you use for anyone else. Ultimately, this demandingness does not lead to increased achievement but rather perpetuates the emotional mistreatment and ensuing wounds you experienced in your past.
Healing this harshness toward yourself is pivotal in your ability to embrace a meaningful and desirable life, one that contains more peace than misery, more joy than pain. A cornerstone in this healing is the development and growth of self-compassion.
Before exploring what compassion is and how to cultivate it, let’s clarify what compassion is not. Often times people equate compassion with an almost spineless, sugary form of kindness. Some associate it with a type of hall pass—granting one total permission to wallow in endless complaints and accusations of unfairness. Compassion is neither. Nor is compassion the contemptuous or indulgent variant of pity that many independent individuals regard as kryptonite. So, what is compassion?