Is Self-Compassion Selfish?

A while back I was having a really tough time. I was seeing an Executive Coach for guidance for my business but six sessions in I was still talking about personal challenges. Each time, I’d say “I really want to get to focus on work” and each time within the first five minutes of my session I’d end up a soggy mess of tears.

On one particular visit I’d had enough of myself. I sat down in the comfy chair by the window determined that I’d shift away from my personal issues and get to the work stuff. Out came the tears. Here’s what I did: SLAP! I literally whacked myself across the face and said “Stop! You’re being such an idiot!”

My amazing coach, held the space and said “Lori, I can see you’re suffering. I’m curious; what do you think would happen if you gave yourself a hug and told yourself something you’d tell a good friend sitting in your shoes right now.”

I felt kind of weird doing it, but with a face full of snot and tears, and now a big red splotch across my cheek, I said “why the hell not, I couldn’t feel much worse.”

From that day on, I have been exploring self compassion because you know what? It really, really made a big difference in how I felt. Instead of feeling shame and guilt and like a complete loser, I felt supported. I felt I had my own back. Mostly, I felt like it was okay to be where I was. It was okay to be imperfect. It was okay to be struggling with life’s challenges.

Over the last few years I’ve learned that being self-compassionate is anything but selfish.

The strange thing is. Self compassion doesn’t come as easy. It actually takes a bit of practice. That’s because we have some outdated beliefs about self-compassion that need to go the way of the dinosaurs. Here’s just a few.

Myth: Self compassion is self-indulgent

Fact: Studies show that self compassionate people care about themselves. Thy eat better, take responsibility for their own health, get good rest, practice safe sex and avoid things that they know are harmful. All of these things are a benefit to not only the self-compassionate individual but anyone who depends on them.

Myth: Self-compassion is selfish

Fact: Self-compassion enhances interpersonal relationships. Studies show that people who rate highly on self-compassion scales are described by their partners as more caring, willing to compromise, more loving, less controlling. This is because the brain is structured to be empathetic. Brain cells called mirror neurons allow us to feel what others feel. When we can notice and empathize with our own feelings it allows those mirror neurons to recognize and relate to the feelings of others.

The mental state that we cultivate within ourselves is picked up by people around us. If we cultivate joy, love and happiness, other people feel that and it helps them as well. So self-compassion is one of the kindest things you can do for others.

So if you think you need to work on having your own back a bit more, I encourage you to check out the practice I’ve posted up on my YouTube channel and have a look at this talk by Dr. Kristin Neff.