When You Have More Compassion For Others Than Yourself

By Laura K. Connell.

Do you ever feel as though you have more compassion for others than you do for yourself? Is it easier to tend to their needs than to tune into your own?

That’s because you’ve been raised to prioritize the demands of others. You’ve become conditioned to empathize and go out of your way to make them feel better at the expense of yourself.

Here’s an example. You’re at a party and someone you’ve just met is monologuing at you on a subject you care nothing about, but you feel it’s your job to stand there and listen.

Someone raised in a healthy home where their needs were considered would either interject or walk away. They haven’t been raised to believe they exist to serve other people.

But you can’t imagine ending the conversation on your terms or steering it in the direction you want. You’re afraid they might not like you. You’re scared their feelings will be hurt.

Compassion for yourself and your wellbeing isn’t on the radar. Sure, you feel the discomfort and irritation of being talked at for an hour.

Instead of taking those feelings as a sign to protect yourself or change the situation, you stuff them down. You don’t believe you have the right to feel good or enjoy a conversation like anyone else.

Compassion and codependency:

Maybe you’re the caregiver in the family. You have compassion for elderly parents even though they displayed little compassion for you growing up.

And you take on the lion’s share of responsibility while your siblings live freely and independently. You may believe you’re the only one strong enough to do the job and, besides, they lead busy lives.

Your compassion for them comes at the expense of self-compassion which would remind you that your needs matter, too. When you are codependent, other people benefit and that’s why they don’t want things to change.

You may have noticed when you tried to enlist help, they’ve got every excuse imaginable. But most of the time you don’t bother to ask because your subconscious mind knows that would be futile.

Dumping on you:

People tell you all their problems, even when you don’t know them well. This includes traumatic experiences that would be better shared with a therapist.

Because of your empathic nature and compassion, strangers feel safe unloading their troubles on you. Instead of setting a boundary, you allow them to dump on you leaving you feeling overburdened and even sick.

But you feel it’s your job to be there for everyone except yourself. And notice when you need someone to talk to, no one is there to listen.

How to develop self-compassion:

So, how do you reserve some of that compassion for yourself instead of constantly serving others? According to Dr. Kristin Neff, the lead researcher on the topic, there are three pillars to self-compassion.

  1. Do to yourself as you do unto others.

Consider the way you treat someone who comes to you with a problem or has made a mistake. Then look at the way you treat yourself in the same situation. 

You likely give far more grace to the other person than you do to yourself. Begin giving yourself the support and comfort you freely give to others.

  1. Know you’re not alone.

When you’re going through something hard, do you believe you’re the only person in the world who is going through it? Instead of sharing how you feel, you become more isolated.

But suffering is part of the human experience. Rather than feeling alone in your suffering, understand that it’s common to every one of us and connects us instead.

  1. Don’t judge your feelings.

You may be used to telling yourself not to feel a certain way (“I shouldn’t feel like that”). You remind yourself that others have it harder than you and you have no right to complain.

However, feeling your feelings as they are without judgment is key to self-compassion. Instead of bypassing your emotions (which can turn to disease in your body), comfort yourself through your feelings as you would a child who was hurting.

Neither minimize nor exaggerate how you feel or what you’re going through. This way you’ll avoid over-identifying with emotions and feeling overwhelmed by them.

You may see yourself as strong because of the responsibility you’ve been forced to carry. This leads to you taking on more than your fair share and even priding yourself on your sacrifice.

But underneath brews a simmering resentment that takes a dangerous toll on your health. That’s why self-compassion will not only improve your quality of life; it may actually save it.

Laura K. Connell is a trauma-informed author & coach who helps her clients recover from the devastating impact of dysfunctional family trauma. Take the Dysfunctional Family Roles quiz here: https://www.laurakconnell.com/dysfunctional-family-roles-quiz

1 Response

  1. Sue F says:

    So good. I can relate to most of these. I have learned to detach and stop trying to fix. I also learned where this behaviour came from; that desire to gain people’s approval and acceptance by putting them first.

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