Loving-kindness meditation as I've learned it typically starts off with an "I" statement, then moves on to "you" and "all."
As in May I be happy... May you be happy... May all be happy.
Sometimes this rubs me the wrong way, as it seems egotistical to start off with an intention for my happiness, and only then visualize someone close to me (usually my wife) and all of humanity being happy.
But given the way most people treat themselves, it does seem like it makes sense to extend loving-kindness to our own self before extending it to others.
Often we're considerably harder on ourselves than on a friend or loved one.
This is one of the points that Ethan Kross makes in his book, Chatter, about the voice in our heads and what it says to us.
If a friend wasn't careful enough when backing out of a parking space and hit a light pole, damaging their bumper, after hearing their tale of woe likely we'd say something like, "Hey, accidents happen, this is no big deal."
But our inner voice, which in this case is an inner critic, says, "Jeez, what a stupid thing to do; only an idiot would smash their bumper while backing up."
There's no way we'd say that to a friend or loved one. So why can't we look upon ourselves as deserving of the same positive attitude we'd give to someone in distress who we care about? Don't we care about ourselves?
An article in the May 2022 issue of Scientific American, "Others Don't Think You're a Mess," has some observations about the relationship between being vulnerable with others, and being compassionate to ourself.
Self-compassion originated from ancient Buddhist teachings. Today's scientists, however, have researcher Kristin Neff of the University of Texas at Austin to thank for defining the concept in detailed psychological terms.
According to Neff, self-compassion consists of three components. First, self-kindness entails a caring and understanding response toward one's own suffering.
For instance, when someone is struggling with feelings of failure, Neff encourages people to imagine how they might speak supportively to a friend in that position and then apply similar thoughts to themselves.
The second component -- common humanity -- refers to recognizing pain and failures as an unavoidable part of life. Finally, mindfulness entails clear awareness of the present moment -- neither ignoring one's difficulties nor exaggerating their magnitude.
My colleagues and I thought that self-compassion could influence how people perceive their own display of vulnerability. After all, vulnerable situations can trigger a lot of shame and fear, and these moments are precisely when self-compassion is most helpful.
For example, consider admitting a mistake. People who treat themselves as they would treat a good friend wouldn't shame themselves for being imperfect. Instead they would remind themselves that imperfection comes with the territory for all mortal creatures.
In addition, a mindful approach to the mistake would lessen the need to either exaggerate or deny its significance.
...Luckily, our sense of self-compassion is not set in stone, and it can be intentionally cultivated. For example, journaling exercises can help people change the way they think about their own strengths and weaknesses by writing about one's feelings with awareness and acceptance, offering oneself words of support and reflecting on how others share difficult experiences.
By developing a kind, mindful attitude toward ourselves, we can become more comfortable with showing our vulnerabilities. This practice, in turn, can strengthen our close relationships.