Have you ever noticed it can be far easier to treat other people with kindness than to do the same for yourself? You might be able to hold great compassion in your heart for others as they face life’s difficulties, yet be merciless toward yourself whenever you feel you have fallen short in some way.
Why is this? Why do we internally beat ourselves up in ways we would never think of outwardly doing to someone else?
Back in the ’90s, Chris Farley captured this phenomenon brilliantly in a recurring comedy sketch called “The Chris Farley Show” on Saturday Night Live. (If you’ve never seen it, Google the segment in which he interviews Paul McCartney.)
In the sketch, Farley plays a version of himself who is endearingly sweet but nervous to the hilt as he interviews his celebrity guests. His character gets so upset over his own performance as interviewer he literally smacks himself on the head and berates himself out loud for asking such “stupid!” questions. His guests have to reassure him he is doing fine just so he can proceed with the interview.
The sketch was lastingly impactful because, through the genius of Farley’s physical comedy, he laid bare a nearly universal psychological experience of self-denigration.
While it may seem obvious that treating ourselves this way is unhelpful, counterproductive, and even harmful, it can be a hard habit to shake.
Something I have noticed upon revisiting old journals of mine is that I seem to be able to generate a great deal more compassion and understanding for my younger self now than I was able to do for myself at the time. I could (and did) judge myself harshly for perceived mistakes and flaws when now I am able to see things a bit differently.
I can see, for instance, how needs of mine were not being met and so of course I behaved the way I did. I can see how I had not yet built certain psychological muscles and had not yet had the benefit of more life experience so of course I was less skillful in certain areas. I can see how I could not predict the future (still can’t) and so how was I to know certain things?
I am also able to give myself a lot more credit for things I was able to do and accomplish, in spite of what were at times trying circumstances. I can actually be impressed with my younger self now over things I did not fully appreciate about myself then.
I have a theory about all of this.
Just as it is hard to have the presence of mind to say or do the perfect thing in the moment you are having a particular experience or encounter (it often occurs to you hours later, right?), I think it is harder to be kind to yourself in the midst of difficulty than it is to do so later on, or when the difficulty is otherwise being experienced outside of yourself — say, by another person, or even a fictional character in a movie or TV show.
In other words, it seems there is a relationship wherein a certain amount of distance optimizes our ability to be compassionate. That distance may take the form of physical and/or mental or emotional separation from the pain being experienced. This would explain why it might be easier to have compassion for a younger version of yourself since, in a sense, that younger version is a different person from the you that you are right now.
The term I use for this phenomenon is kindsight (I thought I had coined it myself years ago, but a quick Google search suggests otherwise). Kindsight, to me, is the ability — through the gift of hindsight — to look back with greater compassion and kindness toward oneself and/or others.
The wisdom derived from your own lived experiences, combined with the distance provided by the passage of time, can allow you to see through more understanding eyes and a more loving heart how you or someone who may have hurt you did the best they could at the time, given the resources they had — or lacked — within themselves. Kindsight can allow you to release some of the baggage from the past that may be weighing you down and move productively forward.
I believe the world would benefit from a lot more kindsight. In order to move on from our own mistakes, be they “real” or imagined/presumed, we must be able to forgive ourselves and love the person who made them. We must afford ourselves the same understanding and compassion we would give to any other person we deeply care about (or, in some cases, that we would even bestow upon a complete stranger).
Take a moment today and offer yourself a generous heaping of kindsight. A younger version of you buried deep within might just be yearning for it.
Originally published at http://inspiredlivingblog.wordpress.com on August 31, 2021.