ARTICLES: The Soothing Balm of Self-Compassion by Abhijita Kulshrestha

The Soothing Balm of Self-Compassion by Abhijita Kulshrestha

The Soothing Balm of Self-Compassion


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Compassion towards oneself is the vital ingredient in a wholesome and joyful experience of life.

Some time ago, I met a family seeking help for some issues they had been facing. It was a wonderful family with caring individuals who wanted the best for each other, but somehow ignored themselves emotionally. Love was there aplenty, but rooted in the wrong foundation: fear, inspired by past experiences. For instance, the mother was a survivor and had experienced abuse as a child. She was overprotective about her teenage daughter. No prizes for guessing that she had somehow managed to turn this relationship with her daughter into a battleground by projecting her own fears, even though she meant well.

Meanwhile, the daughter, an intelligent and ambitious 16-year old, is undergoing stress as she wants to stand out from the crowd through her achievements. After all, this is an age where being “viral”, “shared”, “liked” and having an admirable number of followers determine success and popularity for young people. But how do you feel successful when you are the news for a couple of hours, and then another prodigy, miracle, solution, spectacle, business idea, meme or achievement takes over?

Contentment may need to be redefined anew. Rules of behaviour and coping with life may need to be looked at in new light altogether. In all the stressful situations people face today, a vital ingredient goes missing in creating a wholesome and joyful experience of life: self-compassion.

Most human beings experience some level of disturbance and distress in life at various times and more often than not, these experiences get etched into the memory. The slightest hint of a situation that mimics the past experience in any manner could trigger feelings of fear and nervousness. What happened in the past cannot be erased but one can definitely work towards minimising its impact on the future we wish to create.

A strong structure can withstand a storm. Self-compassion is one such powerful tool that helps create resilience. It is a wonderful mix of kindness, care, forgiveness and consistent support for oneself. Time-tested wisdom says that you cannot pour from an empty cup. So if the human core is bereft of hope, compassion and joy, it cannot extend the same gifts forward into the world! It is only logical to take steps in order to extend the same loving kindness to one’s own self.

The How-To of Self Compassion – Some pointers

1. The wonderful art of saying ‘No’ must be practised. However it doesn’t hurt to know how to say ‘no’ without hurting sensitivities—by extending a gentler maybe later or not now option.

2. It is also important to forgive yourself for past mistakes. It is important to sit down and do an inventory of episodes, events and memories that trigger regret or shame. It is important to look each one of these bugbears objectively in the eye, acknowledge it for what it is or has been, and forgive yourself completely, because that’s what self-compassion is about.

3. Do remember to be gentle with yourself each time you make a mistake. To err is human and it is humane to give yourself permission to have flaws or go wrong sometimes! This, however, does not give permission to continue repeating errors or become an alibi for bad behaviour.

4. Human beings often encounter difficult situations in life that challenge balance and resilience. It is extremely important to be patient with oneself and allow enough time to process emotions. This holds especially true for grief. Trying to put up a strong face when you are crumbling emotionally is a big stressor and will have consequences for your immune system and physical health as well. If an emotion is fighting to spill over and leave your system, do allow it to leave rather than hold it within, creating sickness. Do it as many times as it needs to be done.

5. It is also really important to accept that one can be really good at some things and NOT everything. Give yourself permission to escape the bloodying talons of perfectionism and people-pleasing tendencies. It is also important to lovingly accept that failure may shake hands with you sometimes; but only because at a later stage this go-between will introduce you to his super-boss—success.

6. Excuse yourself from toxic places, stilted conversations and even taxing relationships. Making choices that enable you to maintain balance and function well is something to be proud of. Putting yourself down or coming last is not equal to respect or sacrifice or even a measure of being a good person!

7. Seeking help from reliable resources is one of the biggest acts of self-compassion. Allow yourself permission to grow, easing yourself of the burden of expectations that you must carry every yoke on your shoulders or cross every hurdle by yourself. The ‘Helpers High’ is a documented phenomenon, but receiving is an amazing art form too. Once you master it, you will be able to receive love, kindness, compassion, financial growth and blessings of every other kind.

8. Respect your emotional needs, whether it is a craving for a warm meal, a picnic on a sunny day, a walk amid greenery or a sudden longing for attending a concert or a theatre performance. Emotional body nourishment creates immunity and resilience.

Take time off and do nothing. Unplug from the world around you and notice the sufficiency of your body, breath and being. Self-compassion will help discover contentment.

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