How we treat ourselves is at the root of how we relate to others. To listen to others empathetically, we need to check our own internal talk and know whether our tone is harsh or compassionate.
From Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication:
When we communicate with ourselves on a regular basis through inner judgment, blame, and demand, it’s not surprising that our self-concept [is negative]. A basic premise of NVC is that whenever we imply that someone is wrong or bad, what we are really saying is that he or she is not acting in harmony with our needs. If the person we are judging happens to be ourselves, what we are saying is, “I myself am not behaving in harmony with my own needs.”
So when we’ve made a mistake, or done something we wish we hadn’t, we can examine the decision or action to discover how we were working against our own needs (or best interests). There may be a sense of mourning (and self-forgiveness) if we recognize that we habitually undermine our own needs, but the path to learning starts here. If we can honestly articulate our feelings and needs, and then build an understanding of how our actions support or work against them, we are on the road to deep healing.
Rosenberg’s NVC is a particularly practical guide to building a life of integrity. We start with self-understanding and mindfully attend to the feedback that comes from our relationships and activities. We raise our awareness of our own observations, feelings, and needs and at the same time become more sensitive to the feelings and needs of others.
A mundane situation in which the question of self-compassion comes up is at the end of a dinner party. Everyone is tired, but some people are still having fun. What to do? We can examine our actual feelings and needs in the moment and weigh whether it’s time for us to leave or not. It’s worth taking the time to include contradictory feelings: “I’m enjoying my time with X, and I’m reluctant for it to end”, “If I stay longer, I’m afraid I won’t be alert for my meeting in the morning”, “I don’t want to be a party pooper”, etc. Often enough, the hosts also have a hard time bringing the evening to a close, even when they are slumped over with exhaustion. Sometimes we can say, “This evening has been really enjoyable, but it’s time for me/us to go home. Thank you so much.” Or we can start clearing up or washing dishes, signalling the end of our visit.
Self-compassion is never at the expense of others’ needs. With practice, we can tune in to our own feelings and needs as well as those of the people around us. From this process, our compassion and wisdom can grow.