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Inclusion Column

From Self-Compassion to Empathy: a Path to a Diverse and Inclusive Community

By Gabriela Campoy, MS Assistant Principal

Whenever we take a flight, we have all heard a flight attendant say something like; “if the cabin loses pressure, the oxygen mask will drop from the overhead area. Please make sure you place the mask over your mouth and nose first before assisting someone else.”  More than ever before have we used this analogy or heard someone addressing it while trying to make us understand that our emotional wellbeing comes first, especially during these uncertain times. 

According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), emotional wellbeing is being able to successfully handle life’s stresses and adapt to changes and difficult times. An easy definition to understand but so difficult to accomplish if we don't practice self-compassion first. I think that at least in my generation (generation-x) we were not taught to be self-compassionate which makes it difficult to then be empathetic with oneself and our community. With the lack of empathy, there is very little room for diversity and inclusion.

Self-compassion means being kind and understanding to yourself when confronting a personal failure or noticing something about you that you don’t like. Treating and talking to yourself as if you were talking with your best friend that had just made a mistake. Accepting and being with any emotion that arises, in particular, the emotions that we commonly tend to ignore or we try to evade like; anger, fear, or sadness. Self-compassion is accepting that failing and making mistakes is part of the shared human experience, knowing that you aren’t the only person who has failed and makes mistakes gives you a sense of belonging and not feeling that you are alone. Studies have shown that people who practice self-compassion will make changes to live a healthier and happy life and that they honor and accept humanness. These are people who know and accept that not everything will go right, that there will be times when they will deal with frustration, losses; they will make mistakes and encounter limitations. The more we are open to this reality, instead of fighting against it, the more compassionate we’ll be with ourselves and with others.

The recognized research professor at the University of Texas and author, Brené Brown, has spent two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She mentions in her book;  In Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, that compassion and empathy for others can only be obtained if we accept those traits within ourselves first ( self-compassion).

In cultivating compassion, we draw from the wholeness of our experience—our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

I feel I have never been self-compassionate with myself, could I someday be? The answer is yes, we can. Dr. Neff is recognized as one of the world’s experts on self-compassion and has some exercises she recommends. Here are a few: 

  1. Treat yourself as how you will treat a friend in despair.
  2. Exploring self-compassion by writing something about yourself that you don’t like, that causes you shame, that “you are not good enough”; write a letter to yourself from a place of acceptance.
  3. Changing your critical self-talk to a friendlier way.

You can find more exercises and practices on Dr. Neff’s page:

I truly believe that we can make a big change in our lives and the lives of the people around us by practicing self-compassion. Let’s start to be more loving to ourselves, by accepting that we are not perfect and that this is part of our human experience. If we accomplish this, we will be able to accept the imperfections of our fellow human beings, and then we will be able to live in a more diverse and inclusive society.

Brown B. Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead . New York, NY: Random House US; 2015. 
“Compassion Exercises by Dr. Kristin Neff.” Self,