I’ve been reading about self-compassion lately, and wondering why it is so much easier to feel compassion for others and not ourselves. Why is it easier to forgive others for their missteps, but so hard to give ourselves grace?
Those questions led me to ponder the nature of gratitude. Why is it difficult to recognize all the things in the world for which we could be grateful? I blame it on the brain.
The brain is wired to pay attention to the negative, to focus on what is wrong. It is a survival skill that most people aren’t conscious they are utilizing. We need to actively recognize the tendency of the brain and move beyond our wiring to be able to access gratitude.
Some of my clients have been so focused on what isn’t going right in their career, relationship, and/or life that an assigned practice to focus on gratitude is a major challenge. Especially when I tell them they can’t be grateful for the same three things each day.
You see, to access gratitude, you need to be on the look-out for what is positive, awe-inspiring, and/or heart-warming. The small miracles each day, such as, a smile from a stranger, the laughter of a child, the beauty of a butterfly, or watching a hummingbird are all experiences for which we can be grateful.
I’m currently at work on practicing self-gratitude. This isn’t the false thoughts of the ego, “I’m great or smarter, or better, etc.” Self-gratitude, for me, is an exercise in humility. To be grateful for my place on this earth and the Divine spark within me. Self-gratitude is to recognize the gift that you are to the world with a sense of wonder. It can be humbling at times.
There are many days when I question if I’m a gift to the world. I struggle with self-doubt, pay way too much attention to my mistakes and missteps and focus on all the things I haven’t done or should have done. And then I bring myself back to center. I start with self-compassion. I focus on being kind to myself when I feel inadequate and self-critical. That creates space for me to breathe and expand again.
When we are self-critical and full of self-doubt, our ‘emotional body’ contracts. Imagine you’ve pulled a muscle or fallen and bruised yourself badly. Your physical body then compensates to protect itself. Maybe you develop a limp, or hold your arm close to your body at an odd angle.
We become smaller. When we are self-critical, we tend toward self-isolation and self-absorption. It is as if we are trying to protect ourselves by going inward. Yet, that just exacerbates the problem.
Self-compassion is about recognizing we’re not alone in our struggle. It’s about caring for ourselves as we would care for a close friend or loved one. Just as you may give a friend a compassionate hug, sometimes it helps to wrap your arms around yourself or place your hands over your heart while you concentrate on your breath.
There are multiple dimensions of self-compassion. The comforting and soothing aspect is what most people consider as compassion. But there is another side to self-compassion, the aspect of protecting, and providing. The motivation to create a safe space in which to expand and grow.
This more yang-like quality of self-compassion helps me to access self-gratitude. To protect, provide, motivate, and nurture myself is part of self-compassion. From this state I can then expand into self-gratitude. When I recognize that I am here on this earth for a purpose, (even if I’m sure what that purpose may be), self-doubt loses its power. I can then expand into the possibilities available to me.
I find it is easier to connect to what is ‘right’ about me and the belief that I’m making a difference in the world, when I focus on self-gratitude. I may not know exactly what is on the path ahead, but I can take the next steps, eyes open, body expanded, and heart engaged. Focusing on self-gratitude reduces the tendency for self-doubt to take hold.
The journey from self-doubt to self-compassion to self-gratitude isn’t easy at times. We know more about self-compassion and it’s healing power (there are over 1200 research studies on self-compassion) than we do about self-gratitude.
I’m not waiting for research studies to prove the healing and motivating power of self-gratitude. I trust that the Divine spark is in me and look for its affect each day. After all, the brain will attend to the positive, if we retrain it to focus on what is going right.