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Kathi Whitten, LCSW
No. VA Psychotherapy Associates
. http://www.kathiwhitten.com/


Do you volunteer in your community? Reach out to others? Do you feel good teaching a child something new, or have you stopped to help a stranger change a flat tire? If this is how you go through life, you are truly a giving person. And the world needs all the kindness we can offer.

Yet, often those who readily reach out to others with love and understanding fail to offer themselves the same consideration. People are often dismissive of their own yearnings and pain. In fact, its not unusual for people to be embarrassed by their own emotions, or places within themselves that feel lacking, lonely, hungry for something other than food, or even their own anger. Its as though when it comes to themselves, feelings and needs dont count. Or people feel their own needs are somehow wrong to begin with.

These people cant turn inward with empathy and acceptance toward their own suffering. One might think they see themselves as separate from their fellow creatures, not worthy of the same kindness they would easily offer others.

Its not necessarily a case of feeling unworthy (although that does occur), so much as a habit. When we were children, most of us got messages that we should think of others first, put their needs ahead of our own, and so forth. And often, we should. But I suspect that that kind of conditioning can develop into a general sense that the needs of others are more important, or more genuine than our own.

I simply invite you to remember that you have human needs, too. If its hard to be charitable to yourself, why not experiment? Catching yourself is the hardest part. Thinking your needs dont count gets so automatic, it can be easy to ignore or be annoyed bymessages coming from our own bodies and minds, and react without even realizing it. Some people fail to honor important inner events because they just do not value them.

If you cant hold your own personal tender places with compassion yet, at least notice that feeling is happening, but you are trying to make it go away. People usually do this by either pushing it back or telling themselves something is wrong with it. (Sometimes, people despair because the feeling is not a pleasant one, so they do their utmost to avoid coming into direct contact with it.) How would you respond to a friend or co-worker who feels similarly? Could you someday meet your own needs with acceptance?

This is not selfish (many people assume it is). Unless we understand that we all share the same feelingspleasant and unpleasant, it is all but impossible to be able to feel true empathythe kind that comes from our own deepest knowing. It can be one thing to reach out to others as a kindness, but it is a far more connecting event when we can grasp the suffering of another because we are not afraid of our own.

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