“As it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.” – Brené Brown
That just isn’t true. We can. I am only recently practicing self-compassion, but was taught early in life to be compassionate toward others. I felt it deeply as a child thanks to my parents and church. We volunteered, they talked to me about life’s unfairness and the need to empathize with those who have a harder journey on this earth. My father emphasized kindness and walking in another person’s shoes. My parents both read and so did I, imagining other lives, building both empathy and compassion. That has been easy. What has not been easy has been to extend that compassion to myself and that’s the case for many of us abused as children and experiencing Complex PTSD.
My mother, another incest survivor, not only had no compassion for herself, but none for her three children. She did, however, have massive amounts of compassion for her patients when she was a nurse and for her friends, especially the ones she nursed at the end of their lives. For at least five of her friends, she put aside everything to take care of them during the end stages of cancer. For Lois, she traveled to Alaska and spent several months taking care of her friend, consoling her as best she could, doing the shopping and all of the caretaking. She did hospice care for them in their homes before it was widely known as hospice. She also did charity work throughout her life out of compassion. She knit caps and blankets at her own cost for preemies at her local hospital. She had enormous amounts of compassion for anyone outside of the family, particularly the most vulnerable ones. She felt for them. She could not do that for herself or anyone in her family.
Here is the full quote from Brown’s Ted talk on vulnerability:
“What they had in common was a sense of courage. And I want to separate courage and bravery for you for a minute. Courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language — it’s from the Latin word cor, meaning heart — and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. And the last was they had connection, and — this was the hard part — as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.”
My journey toward self-compassion began when I went into therapy with a professional who had a lot of training in trauma and EMDR. He gently led me down the path toward self-compassion, speaking kindly to myself, and quieting my inner critic. There are far more resources and professionals exploring how to help those of us healing from childhood abuse and CPTSD to learn self-compassion. Brené Brown gets a lot right about shame and vulnerability, however many of us with CPTSD have ample compassion for others long before we are able to give it to ourselves.