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No One Deserves Compassion More Than You Do

self-compassionThe photograph – a closeup of one person’s hand in another’s – is arresting.

The hand on the right, palm up, is that of a white person. The hand lying palm-down in the white hand is that of a very small, shockingly emaciated black person. Probably a starving child. Probably in Africa.

The caption reads, “You hate your life, while some people dream of having your life.”

The photo appeared on the Facebook page of Jeremy Lin, point guard for the New York Knicks, in April of this year. It got almost 87,000 “likes” from visitors to Jeremy’s page.

This is what we’re up against.

Practice Self-Compassion

There’s no denying the emotional impact of the photo. I stared at it myself for several minutes, just taking it in.

Yes, it’s awful to see someone starving when we have more than enough to eat. But the message, “Other people are much worse off than you, so stop complaining,” still strikes me as misguided and damaging.

Have you ever been in a hospital bed, worried, scared or in pain? How much did it actually soothe you to know that other patients were worse off than you?

If it did make you feel better, the effect was only temporary – the result of mental distraction, nothing more.

The fact is that your pain is in no way diminished by comparing it to other people’s.

Just because someone else deserves your compassion, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve your own compassion, too.

Fortunately, compassion is not limited. It doesn’t trade on the stock market, with people who want more shares having to find someone else who wants to sell. There’s plenty of compassion to go around, so don’t skimp.

Go ahead and hate your life; it’s yours to hate. Probably what you’re really feeling is something like anger, despair, regret or envy.

Whatever you feel, you’re entitled. No one gets hurt when you feel sorry for yourself. But when you invoke the spirit of self-compassion, one person gets the sympathy s/he may desperately need: You.

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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0 Responses to "No One Deserves Compassion More Than You Do"

  • Rosie
    August 26, 2012 - 9:08 am Reply

    It is so hard to believe that it is ok to be as compassionate to yourself as you know you should be to others. Putting yourself first is most especially difficult for those of us who have children. Everyone else’s needs come first and fulfilling your own needs seems so selfish. And of course there is a lot of guilt that goes along with paying attention to your needs instead of other’s. I tell my therapist that I feel like I shouldn’t be wasting her time with my issues, there are so many people who have worse ones than I and they could be receiving her help. Her answer to me is always, “would that make your issues any less important?” Guess not…………..but turning my brain in that direction is so hard.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      August 26, 2012 - 1:29 pm Reply

      You are so right, Rosie; it’s hard for many of us to focus on our own needs. Maybe if you think of self-compassion as a gift to your children (i.e., modeling healthy behavior for them), it might be a tiny bit easier. Thank you very much for your comment.

  • prairiegirl
    May 25, 2013 - 11:27 am Reply

    Your quote: “Other people are much worse off than you, so stop complaining,” seems to be becoming the hardest lesson of my life; one I’m still struggling with. I just don’t get it. How can we not measure our pain? It just doesn’t make sense to me. I get the whole self-compassion thing, but there are so many instances where someone else IS hurting more than we are. And how can we worry about soothing ourselves when we’re sitting in front of that someone who needs soothing more? And yet at the same time I can see how it hurts me when I overextend myself in doing so. It just so confusing!

    • Tina Gilbertson
      May 26, 2013 - 11:24 am Reply

      Prairiegirl, I know it’s confusing, especially because of all the mixed messages out there.

      If there were a way you could make people who are suffering feel better by minimizing your own pain… AND if you could choose just how bad to feel … THEN it would make sense to measure your pain and make adjustments.

      But for better or worse, neither of those is true: We can’t help others by ignoring our own pain, and we can’t simply choose to feel better than we do.

      The best we can do with what we’ve got is to offer ourselves compassion when needed. That’s what gives us the strength to be there for others. Without that strength, we don’t have the energy to offer real help.

      Remember the oft-quoted oxygen mask instructions from the airplane: “Put your own mask on before assisting others.” If you refuse to do so on the grounds you don’t want to be selfish, you could end up hurting both yourself AND the other person.

      Does that make more sense?

      Thank you very much for writing; your concern is shared by many, and that’s why I wanted to offer this perspective in the post.

  • Prairiegirl
    May 26, 2013 - 7:13 pm Reply

    Maybe that’s part of my struggle. Because frankly, yes. It DID seem to make my parent feel better when I minimized my own pain and administered to theirs. And yet at the same time, if I didn’t feel badly enough for them, it made them feel worse. Measuring and comparing pain became a survival skill, I guess.

  • Prairiegirl
    May 26, 2013 - 7:14 pm Reply

    Ps. Thank you for reaching out with a reply today, especially given its a Sunday.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      May 26, 2013 - 7:34 pm Reply

      How confusing and difficult for a child, who has emotional needs of her own, to have to minister to a parent. You must have learned well to put yourself second.

      It may not be easy to change things now, but I believe it is possible with courage and support (assuming you want things to change).

      Thank you for sharing your story here and good luck to you.

  • Prairiegirl
    May 26, 2013 - 7:55 pm Reply

    Thank you again Tina. I am in therapy but its a long road. I so appreciate your work and this resource you’ve created. Sometimes when it’s outside hours my therapist is available and these questions just tumble in my head, I just don’t know where to turn. Your website is often the first place I head. Do you have a donation button or some other way to compensate you for sharing your time & wisdom? It sure helps to know there’s caring people like you out there.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      May 26, 2013 - 8:14 pm Reply

      Your words are humbling, Prairiegirl. They’re thanks enough. Thank *you* for reading this blog, and for contributing your comments. All my best to you!

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