When I started learning Nonviolent Communication (NVC) a decade ago, one of my first teachers heavily emphasized self-empathy—that is, sensing into our own feelings and needs as a method to understand and connect with ourselves—as the easiest and most readily available source of empathy and compassion. “Self-empathy is your best friend,” she said.
Her preference made logical sense. You’re with yourself all the time. If you’re in distress, why not soothe yourself?
Except that I couldn’t access self-empathy when I was in acute distress, or even mild distress. No matter how hard I tried, my attempts just didn’t make me feel better. They felt like a hollow, intellectual exercise that left me feeling worse.
I heard in her preference for self-empathy evidence of my own inadequacy: Why couldn’t I just decide to be there for myself, especially when I could see how much better my life and my relationships would be if I did “choose” self-compassion?