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Tapping into Self-Compassion to Help Ease Everyday Suffering

Whatever difficulties you're facing, treat yourself with kindness and compassion

Young Woman Braiding Her Hair
When people write to me about the difficulties they're facing, the most common theme is that of negative self-judgment. They don't feel worthy of their own self-compassion. Their inner critics are so strong that they blame themselves for whatever troubles they're facing, be it health issues, problems at work, rejection by others, even financial difficulties.

In 1990, the Dalai Lama was asked for advice on how to help people who were filled with self-hatred. He was utterly confused by the question because he wasn't familiar with the idea of people disliking themselves. It simply wasn't part of his culture. This story is comforting because it means that people aren't inherently deficient or unworthy. These types of feelings are the result of conditioning. The good news is that all of us can re-condition our minds and learn to be kind and compassionate to ourselves.

To help with this task, I’ve carefully gathered fifteen quotations on self-compassion. Some are from spiritual teachers; some are from philosophers and other writers; others are from people who have self-compassion projects in the works. (You can Google the names of any people you’d like to know more about.) I’ve chosen several portraits by Pierre-Auguste Renoir to accompany the piece.

I hope some of these quotations will enter your heart and perhaps (as they have for me) even find themselves jotted down on scraps of paper to keep by your side.

Madame Renoir
“You are taught that there is something wrong with you and that you are imperfect. But there isn’t and you’re not.” —Cheri Huber

"Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy." —Pema Chödrön

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Often we treat certain aspects of ourselves as junk, having no value. We try to throw parts of ourselves in the garbage. But a human being is an ecosystem, and everything in that system is of value to the whole." —Stephen Schwartz

"If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete." —Jack Kornfield

"Self-compassion is approaching ourselves, our inner experience with spaciousness, with the quality of allowing, which has a quality of gentleness. Instead of our usual tendency to want to get over something, to fix it, to make it go away, the path of compassion is totally different. Compassion allows." —Robert Gonzales

“Self-acceptance is my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship to myself.” —Nathaniel Brand

Paul Meunier
“One's dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.” —Michael J. Fox

“Be faithful to that which exists within yourself.” —André Gide

“When the heart acknowledges how much pain there is in the mind, it turns like a mother toward a frightened child.” —Stephen Levine

“You don’t want to beat yourself up for beating yourself up in the vain hope that it will somehow make you stop beating yourself up. Just as hate can’t conquer hate—but only strengthens and reinforces it—self-judgment can’t stop self-judgment. The best way to counteract self-criticism, therefore, is to understand it, have compassion for it, and then replace it with a kinder response.” —Kristin Neff

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” —Joseph Campbell

Jeanne Samary
“Simplicity, patience, and compassion are your greatest treasures. Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.” —Lao Tzu

“It’s not your job to like me. It’s mine.” —Byron Katie

Because this piece is made up largely of quotations, I’ll take the liberty of ending it by quoting myself from my book How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow:

“We can’t always control the world outside of us, but we can learn to control our inner world, by which I mean how we treat ourselves and how we regard ourselves. In my view, there’s never a good reason not to treat ourselves with the same kindness and compassion that we treat those who are most beloved to us, and there’s never a good reason to regard ourselves as unworthy.”

© 2013 Toni Bernhard www.tonibernhard.com

Thank you for reading my work. My most recent book is titled How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow.

I'm also the author of the award-winning How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers

Both of my books contain chapters on Self-Compassion.

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Your Greatest Gift to Your Partner