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Self-compassion and Trauma

We all have an inner critic, or an expectation of how we should feel shame and pain. This can be self-imposed (e.g., perfectionism), it may be influenced by our social network (e.g., family, friends, peers, co-workers) and it can be largely influenced by media (e.g., beautiful is being thin; success is lots of friends or money). Conversely, post-traumatic growth can influence our values (e.g., family, meaningful relationships, career, monetary). A traumatic event (like cyber-sexual assault or nonconsensual pornography and sexual assault) can disrupt how we speak to ourselves, and how we navigate our world. So, if we experience post-traumatic growth, we may begin to react differently towards many aspects of our world, including things like career paths, discontinued use of alcohol or other substances, injustice, or even day-to-day toxicity.

What exactly is self-compassion? Dr. Kristin Neff and Dr. Chris Germer are pioneers in how we see self-compassion. Self-compassion is having compassion for our self, like we would a friend. Self-compassion is about being kind in the ways we treat and talk to ourselves; it is also self-forgiveness. Instead of persevering through tough times, or lacing up our bootstraps, we can identify a painful moment as “a really difficult time” or a “time of suffering.” Maybe our response to this painful moment is a much needed cry, and this is okay. Perhaps it is forgiving ourselves for past mistakes with some added kindness, rather than ruminating over them and inflicting more trauma.

“Power has become easier to get, but harder to use or keep,” according to Moisés Naím. As we think of our current world, filled with a pandemic and so many moments of racial injustice, each of these events are traumatic. We may be experiencing this injustice firsthand. We may be witnessing it through media. When trauma happens, like injustice, this self-compassion, self-reflection and triumph can help individuals’ cultivate the courage to create effective and lasting social change. We may come back even stronger, with a bit of growth, and some determination, to help fight for a cause that once almost broke us. So, I will leave you with this quote aboutwhat successful movements have in common, “If you could make a change―any change you wanted―what would it be?” (Greg Satell, 2017).

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