Having compassion for yourself

We tend to live our lives externally, defining ourselves by our circumstances, our possessions, our social status and by what people think of us. External stimuli are often the only way we can be sure that we're alive. How curious that we don't look within ourselves for that confirmation.


Our society, our technology and the importance we place on the opinions of others have tricked us into thinking that we are getting a better idea of who we are. But, in reality, we are getting more and more distanced from ourselves.

We don't really understand ourselves anymore because we don't want to, have never been taught how to, or we don't feel able to spend the time being curious. It's too time-consuming and in some cases, it's understandably too much to bear. Whatever the reason, we figure out the fastest, most efficient and least painful way of feeling good and we do that instead. ⁠

This disconnection from ourselves puts the focus and the responsibility for our sustained happiness almost entirely on our external world. We look for people to complete us, jobs to make us feel important or food to satisfy the void and, in doing so, we inadvertently assign our self-worth to these people or things.

The trouble with this is that self-worth is then susceptible to the changing winds and tides of life. As our lives ebb and flow, people and jobs move in and out of them, taking our sense of worth when they leave.

Part of the reason we do this is because it feels, oddly, safer to allow others to dictate how we feel than it does to have to feel ourselves. We are not brought up to understand emotions and how to handle them and so we give that task to others, who themselves are ill-equipped.

For a multitude of reasons, our emotional states as children were often unwelcome. So, we learned to suppress them, adapting the way we express ourselves as to not burden our parents or guardians with ‘unnecessary’ emotional displays – be they joyful or otherwise.

Hand outstretched

We became so adept at this, that many of us will be entirely unaware that we are repressing anything. But, the latent emotions are undoubtedly behind many of the patterns of behaviour that we struggle with in our daily lives. Learning to deny ourselves in this way leads to an inability to feel, among a multitude of other things, compassion for ourselves.

We cannot selectively ignore, repress or numb emotion. We can’t choose not to feel pain without simultaneously being unable to feel joy. We can’t numb anger without also losing the capacity to love. By numbing our pain we have become unable to feel compassion for ourselves.

But what if we did spend some time looking within? Not to assign blame or to berate or to invite melancholy, but to be compassionate with ourselves for how we are feeling, and to be curious about why we are feeling that way. Most importantly, to allow ourselves to feel.

Knowing oneself comes from attending with compassionate curiosity to what is happening within.

- Gabor Mate

Human beings have always feared what we don’t understand. When we begin to understand ourselves, compassion will always be close behind.

Having lost touch with how to feel, feeling anything can be overwhelming for many of us. Turn your gaze briefly within and make contact with your emotions.  Some may be painful, and others may feel alien. The more time you spend with them and the more curious you get, the longer you'll be able to stay in contact with yourself.

You'll become familiar with how it actually feels to feel and the spectre of overwhelming, misunderstood and powerful emotions you've long feared will start to dissipate. The power that they have over you will lessen. The desire to find something outside of yourself that will confirm your existence will come instead from within - leaving you more whole, more connected and, ultimately, more you.

If you find it difficult to connect with your emotions or if doing so causes distress, then I would encourage you to find a counsellor who can help support you with this.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Trowbridge, Wiltshire, BA14
Written by Greg James, MA, Trauma Specialist.Somatic Experiencing and Psychotherapy
Trowbridge, Wiltshire, BA14

Greg has a desire to see people set free from the patterns of the past. Trained integratively, Greg is able to tailor his approach to the individual needs of clients and strongly believes that the lived experience of his clients has a profound effect on their lives. He works out of offices in Chippenham.

Show comments

Find the right counsellor or therapist for you

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals