Compassion Cultivation Training series: There’s nothing noble about being hard on yourself |

Compassion Cultivation Training series: There’s nothing noble about being hard on yourself

Pam Boyd

Editor’s note: This is the fourth part of an eight-part series chronicling reporter Pam Boyd’s journey through Compassion Cultivation Training. Look for additional columns in the Tuesday High Life health section and online at

When last I wrote about Cultivating Compassion Training, we were working on compassion for ourselves. We needed two full sessions on the topic, and this class included the most awkward exercise yet.

For three full minutes, we had to look into a classmate’s eyes and list things about ourselves for which we are proud. Our partner was only allowed to say, “Thank you” and then re-prompt by saying, “Tell me something you are proud of about yourself.”

Gratitude is heady stuff

Three minutes felt like 30 minutes.

With the exception of some notable public figures, we really don’t go around telling others how great we are. That’s not a bad thing. Blowing one’s own horn is a dicey business, and it tends to be a bit off-putting. No one really enjoys sharing coffee with a braggart.

But it’s not a bad thing to acknowledge, at least privately, that you have done some stuff you are proud of because the next natural step in that process is to feel honest gratitude for that stuff.

Gratitude is heady stuff. As instructor Mary Lou Keller noted, gratitude can improve health and happiness. Expressing gratitude can strengthen relationships.

She asked us to take some time to truly explore gratitude this week by writing a gratitude letter to someone who did something for which we were extremely grateful, but to whom we never really expressed that feeling.

Writing that letter was so liberating. I would recommend the exercise to one and all. In my case, it was a way to let go of something I have been carrying around for years. It involves a memory that still makes me cringe. But someone came to my aid and made the experience more bearable.

After finishing my letter, I made a promise to myself that when I think about this incident in the future, I am going to try to make it a memory tinged with gratitude instead of a memory dominated by shame.

Don’t be hard on yourself

Because, like Cultivating Compassion Training says, it is exhausting to be so hard on yourself; there is nothing noble about self-loathing.

It may not be easy to list stuff you are proud of, but it’s not difficult to list the things you are grateful for. That’s the building block for compassion. If we are truly going to try to bring those positive feelings to the world, we need to find a bit of loving kindness for ourselves.

May we all be happy.