Why Your Empathy Has to Include You

A common trend I see with my clients is the lack of self-empathy. Their empathy extends beyond themselves easily. To their friends, their family members, co-workers, even someone they have just met but when it comes back around to themselves, there seems to be a lack.
I hear responses like “I just need to be tougher” or “I’m just too messed up” all the time when people feel like they’re not making the progress they want to see in themselves. They beat themselves up repeatedly, scrutinizing and criticizing every single misstep. And my response has always been this, “Would you ever speak this way to a friend or a loved one?”
And there it is. An incredulous face. A face that tells me “Absolutely not! How could I?”

Why? Because we know that if we were to say these things to a loved one, they would be crushed. They would be hurt and wounded, not encouraged. They would fall into an even deeper slump. They would probably never want to talk to us again or might never trust us again with what they’re going through. They might get angry and defensive and resist change. We know that our words would have the potential to destroy someone’s spirit and yet we destroy our own spirits every day when our empathy doesn’t include us.

Now, don’t mistaken empathy for enabling or turning a blind eye to our faults or areas where we need to grow. We need to practice self-awareness and see the things that we want to mature in or acknowledge when we’ve done something wrong. We just need the berating chorus that we often turn on ourselves to stop because self-criticizing will never give you what you need to move forward.

So here are some practical tips to growing in self-empathy:
1) Start catching yourself when you’re practicing self-criticizing rather than self-empathy: Pay attention to the things you’re saying to yourself and think of an alternative, more encouraging or productive way of self-talk. Think about what you might say to a friend in a similar situation.
2) Identify the situation or circumstance that is bothering you: Think about what is bothering you so deeply about a situation you’re in and why it’s causing you to turn on yourself. There may be deeper concerns or issues that are triggering such a strong response.
3) Talk to a friend or loved one: Talking to a friend or loved one that you feel safe with is a helpful way to get your brain out of its funk. Getting another perspective can sometimes get our minds out of the dumps.
4) Speak to a professional: A therapist or counselor can be helpful in situations where the negative self-talk is too overwhelming and you can’t seem to figure out how to quiet it. We’ve learned a lot of our self-talk language from our childhoods, difficult situations in our lives, traumas, etc but sometimes it’s hard to know possible places that it stemmed from. A therapist can be someone that helps you explore some of these issues!

Everyone has their own battles to fight. If your empathy doesn’t include yourself, it’s incomplete so be kinder to you. It will not only help your mood but it will increase your capacity to love others as well.

Joanne ShiSelf-talk, Empathy