“If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others.” – Dalai Lama
It was 1990 in Dharmasala, at the Mind and Life Conference when Dr Sharon Salzberg (known for her work on Loving Kindness) asked the Dalai Lama about self-hate. This startled the Dalai Lama very much and he was unable to comprehend how people could come to hate themselves. Yet, when we look around us at friends, family, colleagues or acquaintances, we see self-hate being manifested.
I recall a client (let’s call him Jason) who had been hit by a taxi late whilst trying to cross the road at a marked junction. As a result, he developed post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What struck me and made me wince inside, was that he constantly pinned the fault on himself:
- I should not have been in the driver’s blind spot.
- I should have checked before crossing.
- I stepped out too abruptly.
- I should not have developed PTSD and caused my parents so much grief
- I am costing my parents so much money – they have to pay for me to see a psychiatrist, a psychologist, an orthopedic surgeon for my fractured femur and a physiotherapist.
He was at fault and shame on him – that was the message that came out from him constantly. The interesting thing is that Jason had no difficulties being empathetic and compassionate to others. He just had a problem being compassionate to himself. Somehow, he has left himself out of the compassion equation.
Some of the signs of self-loathing or self-hate:
- Constant self-criticism leading to poor self-esteem (e.g., “You dumbass! Its your fault”)
- Perfectionism or excessively high standards
- Constant self-policing in the belief that human nature is inherently flawed and dark (e.g., “You should have smiled without showing your teeth!”)
- Rejecting or censoring parts of ourselves (e.g., “You should not be sad! You need to love your parents not hate them!”)
- Neglecting self-care or excessive self-sacrifice to the point of compromising our own well-being with the related belief that we don’t deserve to care for ourselves
Imagine if you would, that you are surrounded by people who constantly put you down, who point out your faults, who shame you, who bully you. What would that do to you? I would guess that you stand a good chance of becoming very anxious and tense, perhaps even depressed. The same thing can happen when the bashing comes from within us!
What can we do to be more compassionate to ourselves?
Tara Brach provides us with the answer:
“Clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart, is what I call Radical Acceptance. If we are holding back from any part of our experience, if our heart shuts out any part of who we are and what we feel, we are fueling the fears and feelings of separation that sustain the trance of unworthiness. Radical Acceptance directly dismantles the very foundations of this trance.” – Tara Brach
Radical acceptance in this instance means making space within ourselves to accept every aspect of ourselves.
How can we do this practically?
Here are some proposed steps that I would urge you to try out:
Step 1. Make a list of the different parts of you (the shy one, the critical one, the quirky one etc.)
Step 2. List down the characteristics of each part in detail – if it were a person, what personality does it have? What does it typically say to you or do to you?
Step 3. Turn your attention inside yourself and observe mindfully all the parts that come up. As they arise, notice how you tend to react to them. Instead of rejecting them, imagine making a space in your mindscape and allow them to be there. Give each part of you its own space in your mindscape.
With repeated practice of these steps, you might find yourself feeling more compassionate with yourself.
Brisbane psychologist Dr Sam (Wee Hong) Tan is available Monday – Friday. He also provides counselling in Mandarin.