Matt Reid CounsellingHerne Hill, South London



Jesus made it the basis of loving others, of ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’; Whitney sang about it as the ‘greatest love of all’ and the Buddha said that we deserve it ‘as much as anybody in the entire universe’!  But how much do we really practice it.


We’re thinking about self-compassion, or loving yourself and how it’s either missing, slight or scorned.  This is sadly true for everyone, but particularly so for men.  As we approach Movember and the great focus on men’s mental health, I think we need to ask ourselves, “Do I really love myself?”  As Oscar Wilde wryly noted it’s ‘the beginning of a lifelong romance’!


Therapy often must begin in this place. Why is there a lack of love, why is there a taskmaster instead of an encourager, why a relentless critic instead of a cheerleader?  So often we convince ourselves that we are doomed, guilty, weak, undeserving or just plain useless, hobbling ourselves even before we have stepped out beyond our own front door.  The roots of self-loathing or self-love are complicated and usually are in place way before memory even began, so we’re stuffed, right?


Well, yes and no, these elements do indeed start right back in the lap of family life, in that broiling cauldron of human frailty, hopes and failures but fortunately they are not stuck there.  We take so long to even walk as mammals, a baby rhinoceros is on its feet in forty minutes after it’s born, it took me nineteen months to get off my backside!  We’re dependent for so long, unaware for even longer, it can often take decades to begin to realise where we are, who we are and what we’ve come to. 


‘We are’, as the philosopher Martin Heidegger says, ‘thrown into this life’.  We didn’t choose it, not the place, the people or the time but here we are.  Now what?


Self-compassion begins with this first truth: that what primarily formed and shaped us, the person we have come to be was not chosen by us but inherited, borne, coped with, made the best of and so we are not solely to blame.  Responsibility and culpability are shared with other relational systems such as family, culture, society and world.  Only in time is freedom exercised or genuinely present.  Until then, it’s a mixed bag.  We need to peer past the guilt to the innocent child inside each one of us – a child that needs to breathe, be heard, be loved and be embraced.


This inward listening and encouraging is to be coupled with taking the time to be kind to ourselves and the practicing of mindful, loving attention to what is going on beneath all the usual business, hustle and noise.  It’s true that, as Kristin Neff writes, ‘Love, connection, and acceptance are your birthright.  To claim them you need only look within yourself.’


Where might this take you?  Might the most effective action for your mental health during Movember begin with having compassion for yourself?

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