Is Self-Compassion Another Word For Indulgence?
Recently, I had somebody that I respect very much ask me if self-compassion and indulgence were the same things. Believe it or not, this is a pretty common false analogy. The understanding that some have is that self-compassion is giving ourselves what we most desire, and in so doing, being kind to ourselves. The truth is that is not very kind at all. Seeking pleasure to avoid suffering is a false remedy that silently builds suffering, while diminishing our tolerance to it. Indulgence can never be self-compassion because its primary motive is to avoid suffering. Conversely, the purpose of self-compassion is to acknowledge, weather, and learn from suffering.
We engage in indulgence because we do not have enough self-compassion. We can hardly be blamed for this, as most people are not trained in a formal self-compassion practice. So, why do so many people claim to have self-compassion and not be getting any results? The reason is that people know the word self, and they know the word compassion, so they assume that self-compassion is doing good things for your self, but this is actually a gross oversimplification.
Self-Compassion is the ability to sit with difficult feelings, to allow them to pass, and to bring kindness to our experience. We engage in the complete self-compassion practice, so that we have enough resources and awareness to know exactly what we need, and to address our experience in way that gives us lasting energy, stable moods, and well-being. Without this entire process (Every step!), we make assumptions about what we need that fall short of the real thing.
Take the example of fatigue without the aforementioned tools, we tend to address fatigue by binging on caffeine, sugar, and food. This is indulgence. We are using something external in excess to escape internal suffering. Rather than notice the fatigue, name it, make space for it, and allow it to pass, we try to avoid its effects by suffocating it. This kind of binging spikes our insulin levels briefly before it crashes, leaving us feeling depleted, frustrated, impatient, stressed, and even more tired than before. There is nothing kind about that!
Self-Compassion Is A Unique Tool
Self-Compassion is a unique tool that can become second nature over time, but our immediate use of it to detect bodily discomfort/shame, rumination, self-criticism and avoidance behaviors must start out as a very intentional practice. Skipping steps is not an easier way to get self-compassion. It’s more like mixing frosting, and telling people we have baked a birthday cake. When we oversimplify self-compassion practice and make it mean doing good things for ourselves, we deny ourselves access to an effective resource that is very unlike what we have available to us.
Most of the tools we use are designed to help us escape or avoid suffering. This process seems helpful, but it is actually disempowering and confusing. After avoiding or escaping suffering for some time, we become convinced that we cannot handle the suffering. This is unfortunate since suffering is a resource through which we are better able to understand our bodies, our thoughts, and our experiences.
Shying away from difficult experiences prevents us from getting access to the truths unearthed by real self-compassion, and leaves us with an incomplete blueprint for leading a healthy, sincere, and meaningful life. When we apply incomplete findings to our suffering, we are denied the success and fulfillment awaiting those who complete the process. Imagine you are getting dressed for an event, and your friend tells you the dress is business…but you hang up before you can hear the rest. Hours later you show up to this event in your suit, while others are dressed in sweaters and khaki pants just because you were unwilling to wait for her complete response: business casual.
I do not mean to suggest that being kind to yourself is not an important part of the Self-Compassion Process. It is! It is just not the totality of the process. Additionally, the kindness we use over time with a self-compassion practice is informed kindness, the variety of kindness that lasts. This is the type of kindness that alerts you that you need rest, when you are weary or need to go to the gym when you are trapped in your mind. This is the kindness that helps you to set short term, realistic goals, so that you can stop worrying about doing nothing to pursue your long-term goals.
Uninformed kindness would be like eating a donut when you have a craving even though what you really want deep down inside is to stick to a healthy lifestyle or like buying a brand new wardrobe when what you really want is a new job or a more generous romantic partner. Being happy now and later are about making informed decisions that prioritize your deepest wishes not the distractions that lie on the surface. Don’t get me wrong. I love donuts and clothes just not nearly as much as I love having a healthy life, a job I love, and a romantic partner who is both generous and thoughtful. So, I may have a donut or buy some clothes now and then, but certainly not in a way that replaces the actions necessary to be healthy, passionate about my work, and present to my girlfriend.
The Difficulty In Accepting Self-Compassion
Self-Compassion tools are difficult for us to incorporate into our lives because we have to first admit that we do not already have all the answers. For us, this means acknowledging failure and incompetence. The funny thing is that it has nothing to do with failure or incompetence. You cannot fail at or fail to understand that which has never been made available to you before. Just because it sounds simple does not mean that you should have known it.
The information age has blessed us with unparalleled access to resources, but our worship of celebrities or business folk that are supposed to have all the answers has crippled us. Give yourself the gift of not knowing, so that you can grow. Nobody knows everything, even about things you assume are basic like sleeping, eating, and being kind to yourselves.
One of life’s greatest tricks is that it complicates the most basic things. Many people struggle with sleeping, eating, and kindness. If we practice self-compassion, we are able to own this as part of our experience, and in getting to know it we are better able to spot it in the world, which makes us feel more supported and connected instead of dejected and alone. When we use self-compassion, we are able to acknowledge our personal struggle, which connects us to a greater common struggle, freeing us from harsh ineffective self-criticism and opening up doors to self-acceptance and the acceptance of others.
Coming to Grips With Our Needs
Do not limit your present or future well-being. Do not sell yourself short, and think of self-compassion as self-indulgence. Instead, use it as a tool to notice suffering, to name it, to soften around it, to make space for it, and to learn what you truly need to be kind to yourself and live a good life. Trust your experience. Trust the process. Give yourself the confidence to face hard times, and be emboldened by them.
Know that all experiences are opportunities to slow down and attend to what is happening, so that you know best what to do next. Rushing and failing will never beat a steady stride and success. When we are not present to our experience, we must avail ourselves to the leadership of impulse and social approval. There is no time for this drudgery, especially when you can be lead by your own wisdom and compassion.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 84. In the Books.