The Healing Power of Self-Compassion

by Tom Robinson on July 13, 2010

© Ben Smith

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Melodie’s note: Tom Robinson spent more than two decades in engineering and management but, after being diagnosed with a painful chronic illness, he became a life coach to others facing similar challenges. Tom says, “I work with people with chronic illnesses to help them rediscover their dreams and live extraordinary lives.” I’ve appreciated the insights and advice Tom shares through his newsletter and blog, and wanted to introduce you to him because what he has to say is relevant to those healing from cancer too. You can find out more about Tom’s work at chronicillnesscoach.com.

Of all the strategies I teach my clients to help them live well when they have a chronic illness, the one I teach the most is compassion. I teach it and reinforce it by having them wear their watch on the non-normal wrist and put notes on their bathroom mirror as reminders, and by assigning them the task of trying to give themselves an overdose of compassion every day – even though it’s not possible to do that! The reason I focus so much on that strategy is because I have found that it is one of the most healing things people can do.

I know, both from my own experience and from the experiences of my clients, that self-compassion can heal the emotional pain that almost always comes with having a chronic illness. Not only that, but I have seen people stop both migraines and herpes outbreaks by giving themselves compassion.  And while I can’t prove it, I’m convinced that giving myself compassion is the main reason I’m able to keep my Crohn’s disease in remission without drugs.

But I’ve learned that self-compassion can do more than heal the emotional pain we’re feeling today; it can also heal the emotional pain we suffered when bad or traumatic things happened to us years ago.

Maybe you’re wondering how a person would use compassion that way or why they would want to. I’ll answer both questions with a true story of a client I had not too long ago. I had a sense that some emotional pain from Maria’s past was affecting her life, so in our telephone session I asked her some probing questions. I found out she was given up for adoption and also that her country went through a revolution when she was a child. It was clear that both of those events were scary and traumatic. I had her visualize the seven-year-old that she was, and then I had her compassionately comfort that little girl. When she did that, we both simultaneously felt a palpable healing energy. And the next time we talked, she told me that her insomnia of eight years had disappeared.

So how do you know when it would be helpful to heal emotional pain from the past? I can’t answer that question. However, I can tell you that my clients have benefited from 1) revisiting the following: car crashes, being diagnosed with an illness or an emotional illness, the death of a family member, getting fired or laid off from a job, the ending of a relationship, and similar events; and then 2)  giving the person they were at that time as much compassion as they could.

I have done the same thing for many similar events in my own life, and I know that doing so was healing because my memories of those events don’t have the same painful feelings associated with them they used to.

For both myself and my clients, self-compassion has helped us to heal a lot of our emotional pain. It can do the same for you.

Reprinted with permission.

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