Self Compassion

There is a joy and good humour in self-compassion that stands in sharp contrast to the harshness of self-hate.

I am an educator and course facilitator focusing on communication, personal and professional development. For 25 years we have taught a model of the development of the self that emphasizes the dynamic relationship between self-compassion (being a friend to oneself) and the self-hate that comes from trying hard to be the person one ‘should’ be, and in the process, losing touch with the person within.

At the bottom of the diagram is the Authentic Self. As we come into existence as human beings, we have within us a huge range of possibilities. As we grow and develop, we are subject to the influences of our families, our playmates, of television, of books, of teachers. Based on these influences we develop an internal picture of who we ‘should’ be. As we strive to reach this Ideal Self, we leave behind the self of possibilities. And since the Ideal Self is, by definition, ideal – always just out of reach – we inevitably fail to attain our goal. This failure is a fall into reality, into the Actual Self. So we try again, and fail again, creating for ourselves a never ending cycle of self-hate. We will then do all sorts of things to get away from the discomfort of self-hate. People report retreating into sleep, depression or illness, into drugs and/or alcohol or any of the process addictions such as shopping, television, gambling, one night stands, etc.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to these gloomy and all too familiar patterns. Where self-hate leads away from the self of possibilities, there is another path that leads towards self-acceptance and self-compassion. The first steps on this path are to take a breath and allow awareness (Oh yes, here I am again, I know this pattern) and then, give acknowledgment (saying it out loud to another person). As we become aware of our own patterns and acknowledge them, we find more room for ourselves, and more possibilities open up. In this place we can find more self-acceptance, and as we grow, we grow in acceptance of others.

There is one more step: taking action to behave differently in future. For example, I have an ideal picture of myself that does NOT include being grumpy towards others. Recognizing and acknowledging that I am grumpy does not mean that I should now just go on being grumpy whenever the mood strikes me. I can take steps to identify how I move into grumpiness and locate other substituting behaviours instead.

We can summarize the steps along the path of self-compassion as Breath, Awareness, Acknowledgement, Acceptance and Action.

The idea we emphasize at The Haven is that by understanding the relationship between self-hate and self-compassion, we can act more consciously, more self-responsibly, and with more awareness of our choices. In so doing, we can immeasurably deepen and enrich our relationship with ourself and with others.

Gwen Ewan, MA, MATS, DipC, RCC, has worked in the fields of mental health and addictions for the past 35 years. She is now the Director of Education and a senior faculty member at The Haven Institute. She leads the renowned, Come Alive course and Phase 1: Self Discovery, as well as Self Compassion: Making Friends with One’s Self.