Self-empathy isn’t a term you come across a whole lot. Most of the time we consider empathy as something we extend to others. We empathize when we attempt to step into the shoes of someone else, to try to imagine what it would be like in their position.
Empathy, at its core, is a practice to understand, to connect, to support, and to act compassionately towards another. And the more we afford that practice towards ourselves, the easier it is to extend it towards others. But, that is not the only reason we should extend empathy towards ourselves.
Understanding ourselves, connecting with ourselves, supporting ourselves, and acting compassionately towards ourselves are practices of self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-care, self-love.
In day-to-day life, small acts can work magic in how we care for ourselves. A bath, a massage, an insightful conversation, a good book, exercise, a healthy and delicious meal, a five-minute meditation, a cup of tea, a hug, a moment of silence, a few deep breaths.
While incorporating acts like these into daily living is important, taking care of ourselves is about a general feeling and attitude connected to our own sense of importance.
Perhaps the easiest way to understand this would be to consider the importance of being solely in charge of a life that is not your own. To have to feed, listen and talk to, understand and soothe, another being. A being that feels as close to you as your own self. How would you approach the task? Would you speak harsh, judgmental words on a consistent basis? Or would you be encouraging and gentle most of the time? Would you demonstrate affection and care and want to let that other being know how much you love them? Would you try to understand and soothe that life in your charge, or disregard it and deny its feelings?
For a lot of us, it is easy to imagine extending our best, most concerned and caring attitude towards this other being. Sure, there might be moments when we get stressed out, overwhelmed, or slip up. But overall, the intention and the sense of importance of the relationship is obvious.
So, how does the general feeling and attitude of this example relationship compare with the general feeling and attitude you have towards your relationship with yourself? Is there a discrepancy? For many of us, the discrepancy of care is palpable, if not extremely obvious. We might even ask, why are we so careless with ourselves? Why do we forsake the nurture we are so willing to extend outwardly when we consider conveying it inwardly? And even if we are kind to others, are we truly kind if we can’t consistently afford kindness to our own selves?
The relationship with our own selves is tricky because it is quiet and there’s no one around to observe it except for YOU. So, it’s tough for someone else to call you out on how you’re treating yourself. It’s tough for someone else to say, “hey, that’s not fair how you’re talking to yourself all the time,” because no one else hears that voice, except for you.
So how can we be more empathetic towards ourselves? Think about it. There are myriad methods. Some may work better for you than others. Here’s my three suggestions:
- Feel: Feel that loving feeling you have for someone else in your life, and then imagine feeling that loving emotion for yourself. It might feel awkward to begin with, so try to persist through the initial awkwardness. This could be as quick as a one minute practice as you lie in bed in the morning or at night.
- Be accountable: Hold yourself accountable for the relationship you are having with yourself. For example, when you become aware of thoughts of self-criticism, ask yourself, ‘would I say this out loud to someone else I care about?’
- Accept kindness from others: Say yes to others when they offer their help and support. Sounds easy, but many of us have a knee-jerk reaction to kind offers that results in an automatic refusal. Take a breath when someone makes an offer and consider saying yes and thank you.
Empathy is an incredibly powerful tool in nurturing our relationships. Even when no one is around, we are in relationship all the time – because there exists a certain ever-present relationship that we have with ourselves. Let’s not forget the opportunity to extend empathy inward.
Contributed by Salima Stanley-Bhanji