Self-Compassion: Creating an Environment for Growth
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | January 2018
To grow, we need kind environments. Neglected children and abused adults stagnate, seeking stunted adaptations. We’re not doomed. We have power to change, through self-compassion.
Life is difficult—full of hazards. People threatening our well-being. For many, living is scary. The anxiety of living forces adaptations to thought to soothe the fears. Many adaptations lose utility as we move into adulthood; but creatures of habit don’t easily change. Our perceptions ignore the reality of our frail and fallible human condition drifting to a self-conceived world where we are strong. Our minds avoid contemplations that terrorize peace, bullying our stability. The realization of weakness provokes emotions where we draw upon defensive thoughts to rescue, avoiding recognition of flaws that invade and strangle hopes. But improvement is doomed by self-protective blindness. We must first see, and then constructively approach.
If acknowledging weakness painful ignites shame, poking our sensitive egos, we automatically protect by conveniently overlook our faults and smoothly projecting cause where we can self-righteously blame. From an internal perspective, not having any personal weakness and not noticing any personal weakness appear the same.
We accept the conceptual idea of imperfection; a few brazenly don’t (we usually avoid those narcissistic brutes—or vote them into office). But typically, we accept that we aren’t perfect. General acceptance is dandy but without identifying specific imperfections, we are powerless to change. But here in the nitty-gritty of flaws, knowledge tears into sensitivities, grating self-worth, weighing down with burdensome shame and guilt. If we want to transcend our current existence, we must accept knowledge embedded in these specific imperfections. Here we find information necessary for change.
However, we first must administer self-compassion to identified flaws, attending to the weakness—our soft spots—with care.
We naturally nurture personal characteristics that make us feel good, coddling our strengths and abandoning our weaknesses. We feel warm when pondering strengths. We must reach deeper, offering gentleness to the flaws as well. This is the essence of compassion. Self-directed compassion expresses kindness even with notable mistakes. We can love despite our flaws, addictions and self-destructions. We may dislike the behaviors and tirelessly work to change; but still must compassionately accept the blemishes as part of the whole—a struggling but worthy human being. We survive despite our flaws, working through challenging environments, stumbling through mistakes; but ultimately emerging on top.
"We must reach deeper, offering gentleness to the flaws as well. This is the essence of compassion."
Our self-acceptance provides security that encourages explorations into the soul. Isn’t that what we needed from our parents? The child’s courage to explore stems from a foundational knowledge of an ever-present safety zone—a home base. Only when the child knows parental support is available for beckoning does the child venture into new environments; danger without a trusted escape overwhelms. We have no capacity to escape if we venture into harm and have nowhere to recover.
With self-acceptance, the demands for perfection no longer burden our inner-child. Recognizing flaws no longer strikes the delicate self with impunity. Our safe base opens new opportunities. We compassionately embrace the vulnerable and frightened inner-child, not because he is perfect but because she is loved. By responding compassionately to weakness, we create a protective environment that stimulates growth. The person who compassionately tends to their spirit with kindness also treats the soul with compassionate action, abandoning people and places that harmfully attack our sense of safety. Harsh inner environments seek collusion from the outside, our meanness to ourselves lends to abusive connections on the outside, supporting self-judgments of undeservedness.
As adults, we have the power to create kind environments—inside and out. By embracing our perfectly-imperfect human condition and acknowledging weaknesses, we nurture growth. This is self-compassion. Life is still difficult, but success and flourishing doesn’t demand perfection. We are adaptable. We face the demands—fail at times; succeed at times—and continue forward, reaping the rewards of courage and kindness.