Any program of self-change is bound to include some moments of discouragement. Disappointment and frustration are natural when the fantasy of immediate results is squashed, or the expectation of perfect discipline or consistency is not realized. It is common to start off with a great burst of energy and then slowly wind down. It is natural to set high initial goals and then have to reevaluate their feasibility. These are all normal turns in the cycle of change. They happen to everyone. The challenge is to deal with these setbacks realistically without allowing them to build into self-hatred or cynicism. Compassion toward yourself and others is an integral part of the wellness journey.
A great deal of chaos in the world occurs because people don’t appreciate themselves. Having never developed sympathy or gentleness towards themselves, they cannot experience peace and harmony within themselves, and therefore what they project to others is also inharmonious and confused. . . . That kind of gentleness towards yourself and appreciation of yourself is very necessary. It provides the ground for helping yourself and others.
- Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala
There are times to be strict with yourself and times when you should ease up. Self-compassion is a way to handle disappointment and frustration and keep moving ahead with your efforts to change. As you practice self-compassion, which incorporates self-acceptance and self-forgiveness, you naturally learn greater compassion for the shortcomings of others. Such awareness reminds you to be flexible in your approach to life, contributing greatly to your overall wellness.
The High Price of "Should"
Valuable life energy is wasted in burdening yourself with guilt and blame. ("I should have done this." "I shouldn’t have done that.") These "shoulds" are danger signs if they are accompanied by feelings of self-hatred. Approach them gently, with caution. You need to examine them to determine whether they are just hangovers from early training ("You should always smile") or whether they are self-imposed demands and unrealistic beliefs that have no basis in your current reality. ("I should do everything perfectly or not at all." "I should never let others see me as weak, or they will take advantage of me.")
Learn to observe yourself more honestly and to show compassion for any areas that are not meeting your expectations. This will help you stay well. Self-hatred can build up an internal rigidity that is stressful on your system. Your emotional energy becomes toxic and that negativity weakens your immune system. With compassion, you open yourself up again, letting energy flow more freely through your whole body, soothing your emotions and clearing your mind.
Many body-oriented therapies such as massage, Rolfing, and bioenergetics, are designed specifically to help release years of accumulated resentment and rigidity. Any effort to change will only be lasting and life supporting if it grows in a soil that has been nourished with compassion. Without the compulsiveness of shoulds, your journey to wellness can be a joyous adventure.
What Is Compassion?
The basis of compassion is an honest recognition of your own suffering and that of others. Suffering is part and parcel of being alive. We suffer when we stay attached to the past, afraid to embrace the future. We suffer when we make unrealistic demands on ourselves or others. We suffer when the people we love leave us. When you acknowledge that you are not perfect, and neither is anyone else, you develop a sense of compassion.