Self-Compassion vs. Selfishness

Many people feel it’s selfish to feel self-compassion.

But is this true? Let’s find out.

What Does Compassion Mean?

To understand whether self-compassion is selfish, we need to know what compassion is.

According to Merriam-Webster, compassion is a “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Thus, compassion has two parts.

First, you must be aware of suffering.

Second, you must help relieve that suffering.

Most moral codes consider compassion to be one of humanity’s greatest qualities. People who exhibit great compassion for others are celebrated as heroes. For example, think of Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King. They both saw suffering in the world and did their best to help.

Increasingly, psychology and neuroscience are confirming that compassion is important for our health and well-being. Showing compassion can relieve stress, improve our mood, increase happiness, and boost our immune system. Studies show that even small babies can feel compassion, indicating that a desire to help others is deeply wired into our biology.

What Does Selfishness Mean?

According to Merriam-Webster, selfishness means to be “concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself; seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others”. For example, it’s selfish to cut in front of other people in line or take the last slice of pie without offering to share.

If it’s selfish to concentrate on one’s own well-being without regard for others, and self-compassion is to recognize one’s own suffering and seek to alleviate it, then self-compassion must be selfish, right?

Wrong. If your goal is to serve others, then ignoring your own suffering is counterproductive.

Self-Compassion Helps Us Be Better, and That’s Not Selfish

Imagine that you made a terrible mistake at work. What is your response? Many people will criticize themselves, spend time worrying, or sink into depression or anxiety.

If you do the same, consider this: can you focus on your work or on other people’s needs while you call yourself names? Probably not.

Now, imagine making that same mistake, and turning some compassion toward yourself. What would that look like?

First, self-compassion involves taking a moment and acknowledging your own suffering. It’s difficult, but important, to feel your own pain. Next, comfort yourself. Soothe yourself as you would a child or friend going through the same distress.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes to alleviate your own suffering. Then, you can go back to helping others with renewed energy, well-being, and compassion.

Sometimes, you need to do more than just comfort yourself.

You may have to take responsibility for your mistakes, make amends, and create a plan to avoid such mistakes in future.

By stepping up to relieve your suffering now and in the future, that’s true self-compassion, and there’s nothing selfish about it.

Self-compassion is a healthy process that helps us meet our own emotional needs so that we can be at our best, for ourselves and others.

What do you think? Are you a self-compassion master or could you use a little development in this area?

I’m a definitely a work in progress.

 

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