In the space of just a few months the world experienced a pandemic, a movement against social injustice and an economic downturn. The media became a voice for everyone who was struggling and the stories that were being shared hit home.
As we heard about the first responders who were putting their life on the line, or those who lost family members to COVID-19 it was hard not to empathize with each and every person who had been impacted. More importantly it put everything into perspective for all of us.
Empathy is not just about other people, it’s about you, too.
For many people, however, having empathy and compassion for themselves feels really difficult. It might feel like self-pity, weakness, or being too soft. We might start to compare our pain to the pain we see others experiencing, and to ourselves, “Other people have it so much worse… I need to just toughen up.”
Comparing our own suffering to that of others isn’t helpful. To start with not only is it rarely a case of apples to apples but assuming that you don’t have to take care of your situation because it’s not as bad as someone else you know doesn’t help us develop our resilience.
Practicing compassion towards ourselves is a critical part of experiencing empathy towards others. When we can connect with our own hurt, we are more effective with connecting with that of other people because we’ve had more practice.
Here are some tips for getting started with self-compassion.
- Acknowledge that this is hard. Because it is hard. It’s helpful and calming to recognize that.
- Accept how you feel as normal for this situation. In times like this, it is not unusual for emotions to be all over the place. Every feeling is OK.
- Name your emotions and where they show up in your body. For example, “I feel scared and my chest is tight.”
- Take some time to relax—do whatever makes you really feel better. Be aware of the difference between rejuvenating and checking out.
Our ability to empathize with others is a key part of building and maintaining positive relationships, and strong relationships enable individual resilience. Having a little self-compassion will help you be there for the most important people in your life.
Remember they need you just like you need them.