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Toward a More Compassionate Environment

Steven Topper, LCPC

Most of us would agree that the world would be a far lovelier place with a little more compassion. And while many of us work to extend compassion toward our pets, families, and friends, so many struggle with self-compassion. In the Podcast “Psychologists Off The Clock,” Dr. Christopher Germer discussed the role of self-compassion and how to increase daily self-compassion. He asserts that self-compassion is a practice in moving toward acceptance, and that, “You can’t hold your experience until you can hold yourself.” Further, he notes that with increased self-compassion, we are no longer asking from our external supports to validate us, and instead provide our own support and approval. 

Dr. Germer calls self-compassion the antidote for shame and approval seeking. And identifies three major components to self-compassion:

Mindfulness – a loving awareness of the current experience

Common Humanity – a recognition that all of us suffer and struggle

Self-kindness – the extension of a kind perspective that we may take with a loved one

When we can bring together these three pieces, we are often found living more richly and authentically. Yet many of us worry about too much self-compassion. Recently someone asked me, “Isn’t self-compassion just a way to let me off the hook.” When we investigated further, we found that in fact, I can increase accountability for my actions when I engage in self-compassion (the research supports this notion!). This is due to being more open to taking learning experiences and using them to grow. The podcast also notes that more self-compassion leads to healthier and more fulfilling romantic relationships, as there is more compassion given to our partners and we require less compassion from them. 

There are four steps to self-compassion, and we can see how they correspond to the components listed above:

  1. Notice when I’m struggling – This is taking stock and being mindful of our present experience.
  2. Show sympathy for this struggle – Recognize that struggling with this thing, right now, is really challenging and uncomfortable. We struggle just like everyone else on this planet!
  3. Wish for less struggle – Take a stance of feeling what it’s like to genuinely want ourselves to be in less pain. It’s kindness!
  4. Do something or say something – When we show compassion to others, it’s often with kind words or acts of kindness. We can do the very same thing for ourselves, and this is the thing that pushes us toward values-driven behavior. 

When you’re kinder to yourself, you’re increasing your well-being and allowing yourself an opportunity to have a difficult time. This frees us up to act in line with our values, even when things are really tough. When you do this, you increase your ability to extend compassion outward. Not just to our partners, children, pets, but also to the people next to us in line, or on the subway. If we want a more compassionate, kinder society, we may have to start being compassionate and kind to ourselves. 

If you or someone you know struggles with self-compassion, it may be useful to try counseling. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists today!

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