The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines compassion as a “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” It’s a quality that is valued among spiritual traditions, helping professions and philanthropic initiatives. In the absolute absence of compassion, suffering would run rampant and there would be zero hope for any good to be done in the world. Even in the midst of such horrific world conditions, compassion still lives on in people who seek help others in grand gestures or small contributions.
As we strive to extend compassion to others, a question arises: how often to we extend compassion to ourselves?
Truth be told, many of us walk around wounded by the thoughts of our relentless inner critic, a voice that seeks to blame us and shame us for the mistakes we’ve made. We look back on incidences that had a less-than-successful outcome and pummel ourselves with the “would haves” and “should haves.” It’s a losing battle that leaves us battered by disappointment in ourselves and bloodied by regret.
In reality, we are not always to blame for our mistakes. Most times, the reason why we didn’t do better is because at that point in time, we truly didn’t know better.
In therapy, I discussed some events from my childhood that were less than stellar, painful even. To make a long story short: second grade was not my year. On the one hand, I harbored resentment towards the little girl that was me. I questioned why I didn’t do things differently, why I didn’t think of a better way to handle my problems, why I wasn’t strong enough to cope.
And then I remembered: I was seven.
Seven. An age where one is barely past knowing their alphabet and just getting into basic arithmetic.
Seven. An age where I was just learning how to color inside the lines.
Seven. An age where any word that had more than seven letters was considered a “big” one.
How on Earth could I expect her to act upon knowledge and emotional intelligence that she wouldn’t have been able to even comprehend, let alone contain? The answer is, I couldn’t; to do it would be unrealistic, unfair and downright cruel.
After so many years of asking “Why?” I finally allowed myself to feel compassion for that little girl who simply didn’t know better. I stopped blaming her and started to accept her.
I was finally able to love her and let her off the hook.
And so it goes with all of us. Before we strap on the boxing gloves and square up against ourselves, keep in mind that there is a pretty big chance that you acted or reacted the way you did to a certain situation because you didn’t know any better. You did what you knew how to do and did your best with the information you had at the time. Extend yourself some compassion; it can heal some nasty wounds and break even the strongest chains.