I recently learned that compassion comes from the Latin word compati, which means “to suffer with.”
The act of suffering with someone makes me think to this past fall when my friend made the painful decision to leave her husband.
Even though I wasn’t the one whose marriage was ending, I was aching and suffering alongside her. I care about her and I know how strong she is, so that made me carry a piece of her pain with me. That’s compassion. When we hold the space for our loved one to deal in the way that works best for them; that’s when we’re showing true compassion. We’re showing them that we love them and support them, even through the crappy moments in life.
Self-compassion can be super helpful in developing resilience and honing our healthy coping and decision-making strategies, as well as reducing the frequency of negative thoughts and feelings. This can lead to a decrease in our anxiety, stress, and overall experience of pain.
I know that it’s somewhat of a challenge to practice the same compassionate care with ourselves that we do with a friend. So often our society, and the expectations we imagine that others place on us, can make us feel like taking the time to be compassionate to ourselves just means that we are selfish navel-gazers. I’d like to call bullsh*t on that idea. If more members of our society took the time to show compassion to their own body and spirit, I believe that our communities would be healthier, more resilient and more nurturing.
It can be particularly difficult for those of us who are living with pain to feel loving toward ourselves, because pain can overtake the feelings of pleasure, safety, and calm. Adding to that, people with pain can also feel like they are helpless and that nothing they can do will make a difference. This is when I think that we need some self-compassion the most.
That’s why I decided to write myself a love letter.
Actually, I wrote a love letter to the chronic pain that lives with me. I know that my body, mind, and spirit have dealt with a lot, and that chronic pain—despite its best efforts to bring me down indefinitely—has taught me so much and helped me grow. I hope that by showing it some love and compassion that I’ll feel more peaceful and comfortable in my body.
Here it is:
I love how much I have learned about myself since you showed up 10 years ago.
I love how I’ve realized that even though you showed up uninvited and try your best to make me mad, ashamed and lonely, I’ve learned to find ways around you. I’ve stopped feeling guilty when I need to let myself rest because you’re bothering me. I’ve identified things that make me feel good and like my authentic self, so I do them often.
Because of you, I am more committed to taking care of myself and being gentle with myself, so that you can’t bring me down more than you already have.
Because of you, I now know that there is a place within me that you can’t hurt; this is my safe, peaceful, joyful place where I feel healthy, strong, and vibrant. I meditate on this place and it helps to ease the pain and suffering you bring.
I’m more aware of my body and how my thoughts and actions manifest within it. I pay more attention to speaking positive truths about myself than negative narratives that don’t serve me.
Before you came into my life, I thought I knew what it meant to be a good friend, but I don’t think I really did. Living with you has taught me about true struggle and what it takes to overcome something as big and challenging as you; it’s taught me empathy and how to be more compassionate to others who are also suffering and struggling with their own obstacles. You’ve taught me how to be a better friend and a more active listener. I’m now more capable of being there for the people I love.
Before you and I met, I rarely asked for help. Instead, I liked to be the person who provided support but never needed to ask for it. A lot of that has changed now. I still enjoy being there for the people I love, but I now know that the kind of support I provide is different than what it was before. I’m also not afraid to ask for help because sometimes there are things that I just can’t do without causing you to react and make me feel worse. I realize that I need to take more time to do things than I did before you came along, and I know that my loved ones would rather help me with certain tasks than risk my health and well-being. I appreciate their help more than I ever did.
I love that you changed me and opened me up to better see your adversaries: joy, vitality, peace, and comfort. Now, I’m better positioned to greet them with open arms and call on them during my most difficult moments.
I love that you remind me of how strong, resilient, and badass I really am.
I love that you can’t ruin me, no matter how hard it gets and how many challenges you throw in my path.
Most of all, I love that even though you’re here, you don’t define me. I’m me. You’re you. Sure, I’ll always carry the experiences that we share and everything I’ve learned from you, but I find peace and strength in knowing that, no matter what, you’ll never be me and I will never be you.
Author: Shelly Jackson
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Charles Harry Mackenzie/Flickr