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Write Your Own Self-Compassion Proposal

Small yellow flower on concrete


Compassion is a virtue.

But what if, by inborn instinct or after diligent learning and practice, you attain this virtue—deeply feeling and expressing compassion for others of all stripes, even those whom society condemns—and yet, having reached this rarefied spiritual plane, you still find it prohibitively hard to extend compassion toward the one person who requires it most of all from you?

What if, despite the grace you manifest toward manatees and murderers, the understanding you attain for strangers large and small, you maintain a hard-hearted coldness toward the one who shares your home, your clothes, your car, even your skin—that is, yourself?

How often have you volunteered for a charity or visited a sick friend while at the exact same time lambasting your body, hair, intellect and/or skills? How often have you fed or listened feelingly to others, then ridiculed yourself for not having served more or "better" food, or listening longer and giving "better" advice? How often have you undermined your good work by deriding its merits or motives?

People with low self-esteem are predisposed to feeling compassion toward others: Sympathy, empathy and the urge to defend those who suffer comes easily to us, because we too have felt hurt, ostracized, excluded and denied. We can speak to and for our fellow sufferers, voicing their pain even when they cannot.

Thus we can help to heal our fellow sufferers—while staying stuck in our own landmine-studded ruts.

That's because we freely give to our fellow sufferers some precious gifts that we refuse to give ourselves.

The first such gift is love.

We give our fellow sufferers these gifts because—surprise, surprise!—our fellow sufferers aren't us.

But living without self-compassion is like living wrapped in barbed wire.

That is not a virtue, as I've learned. Granting yourself even a fraction of the kindness, open-mindedness and that's-okay-we'll-get-through-this-together-ness you'd grant an animal or stranger whose sad face you've seen once in a magazine is the equivalent of being born again. If nothing else (and there's a lot else), self-compassion deepens our compassion for others as well.

Try this writing experiment: Compose a "compassion proposal" explaining why a certain person merits faith, love, hope, trust, second chances, admiration, commendation, homage and amends. Resist all urges to judge harshly, undermine or criticize. Write feelingly, convincingly and openly about this individual—who happens to be you.

Length, style and format—outlines, vignettes, journals, articles, novellas, graphic novels, letters, lists, notes, screenplays, songs and/or anything else—are up to you. (Bonus: Choosing the length, style and format of your self-compassion proposal is, itself, a compassionate act.) Here are some possible themes to pursue:

  1. History: You're still here in this world; thus you're a survivor. What's the story of your life?
  2. Hardships: You've faced obstacles, obstructions, losses, tragedies and traps. What were they, and how have they shaped you?
  3. Accomplishments: Come on. Admit it. You know you've achieved at least a few decent things thus far. Now's the time to name them.
  4. At Least I'm Not...: If life has taught you only one thing, it's that you find certain acts, traits and individuals despicable. Which of these acts haven't you committed? Which of these traits do you lack? Which of these individuals aren't you? This part of the exercise might seem humorous, but take it seriously and the results might amaze you.

S. Rufus is the author — under the byline Anneli Rufus — of several books including Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself (Tarcher Penguin 2014) and continues on the path of addressing self-esteem.

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