The Power of Self Compassion

Reprinted with permission from Stones Across the River: The Path to Your Best Work in Your Peak Years  ©2016 Phillip Berry

To Err Is Human

W e all make mistakes. As part of the human experience, we engage in a natural mistake/forgiveness cycle that shadows virtually every aspect of our existence. Big or small, we are busily erring in jobs, relationships, choices, and projects, as well as on tests and other measures of our aptitude. If one were so inclined, he or she might begin to believe that our proclivity for making mistakes makes them a foregone conclusion and us perpetual failures.

Admitting to our own humanity is one thing. Burying ourselves in the muck of it is something entirely different. Self-compassion begins with acknowledging our own humanity and the inevitability of mistakes.

To Judge Is Human

What is it within us that makes us the most unforgiving judges of ourselves? Our intolerance for our own mistakes can be nearly pathological. Fear of them creates paralyzing hesitation while embarrassment from them pushes us into circles of isolation that we craft like prison walls. Our critical self-talk tears at our psyche like paper, shredding self-confidence and the beautiful boldness of which we all are capable.

Recognizing the intolerance within us allows us to view it rationally. Knowing our tendencies enables us to intercept those judgments and mitigate the feelings. We know we make mistakes. We know we judge ourselves. What’s left is the need to forgive ourselves.

The Weight of Guilt

Do we allow our guilt to weigh us down? Avoiding the source only heightens the burden. Time gives us some reprieve, but we’ve still left the old wound in place. Like a hole in our soul, the mistake rests, invisibly festering. We collect these memories in an ever-expanding litany of our own failings. Quietly paying emotional interest on a debt that is never paid, we let it cling parasitically to our sense of self for far longer than we can afford.

Carrying the baggage of guilt only holds us back. It slows our movement, not only inhibiting our growth but diminishing our joy. Guilt serves nothing, and though that recognition will not remove it, it does position you to take command of your attitude toward it. There is no going back; your path is forward and you get to choose it.

Facing Our Demons

What happens when we finally face our demons? The guilt sensations we’ve collected, magnified, avoided, and feared become diminished when we acknowledge them in the light of our own awareness. Facing those mistakes takes us down new paths and often reveals redeeming qualities we forgot long ago. We are good and we do deserve the gifts of our life. All we have is hard won, one way or another.

Piecing together old memories can serve to liberate us by casting those images in a new light. Old conclusions may fade as we realize that new wisdom has shifted our perspective. This is a gift you give yourself.

Don’t Wait

How long will we wait to forgive ourselves? One minute? One year? One lifetime? The insidious thing about our collection of mistakes and guilt is that they accumulate slowly, weighing us down imperceptibly until the point at which they become unbearable. This is a very unfortunate circumstance in a life of finite duration among rapidly passing days. We can choose to allow them residency in our being or we can choose to absolve ourselves.

Solving the mystery of your own redemption will change your life and the lives of those around you. Imagine the power of self-compassion on a daily basis and use it. It is a healing salve for you and for those you love. Don’t wait.


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