Self-Compassion and Apathy: the difference

You may have been here before…

That moment when you come home from a tough day.  A day that leaves you disconnected from yourself. A day where you feel caught in it – whatever your it might be.

When you arrive home there are ways to cope and deal. For those on the turning off and numbing out train – food, TV, or your substance of choice may come to mind.  Often times choosing the highest, most enlightened path that serves your greatest need isn’t always the path of least resistance. You’re not alone.  

You may seek to be the greatest version of yourself, seeking to choose the best ways of moving through life.  But, what occurs when that doesn’t happen? What if you have those off days, or make choices in dealing with those days that add to the pain and suffering?

Well, what if being the very best version of yourself isn’t about being on your A-game all the time? What if it means dealing with your experiences, and how you react to them, with the simple act of offering compassion inward?

What if it means being your most compassionate self?  

As an individual experiencing the waves of life coming through in varying directions all the time, you first have to remember:

you are human. 

You are going to experience things in the world that don’t always feel great AND you aren’t going to respond to these things as your “highest self” every time. 

We all have different coping tools – ways of dealing with the world around us. For most of my clients, food is their favorite tool. It comforts them and turns everything on pause. However, once the numbing has worn out, this behavior adds to the grief, pain, and discomfort.

What this behavior is built on is a sense of apathy.  Apathy comes from the Latin word apatheia, meaning “without feeling.”  Apathy literally turns the feelings off.

There is this notion that after a hard day, the compassionate thing to do is to come home and take care of one’s self by turning off. As though the compassionate thing is to ignore the discomfort.

However, turning off is not compassion; it is apathy.

One of my current self-compassion gurus, researcher and writer Kristin Neff, explains: 

You cannot ignore your pain and feel compassion for it at the same time.

In other words, you have to look into your stuff, into your dark spots in order to experience compassion for yourself. It is the act of going inward and seeking mindfulness around your experience that let’s the light of compassion in.                                                           

Self-compassion requires “a willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity.” 

Here is an exercise for you to practice in moments where apathy is often the path of least resistance: 

-       Take a moment and look around. What is going on? What is your pain, discomfort, suffering? Get clear.

-       Then, imagine a loved one sharing that same story with you.

-       Next, write a letter to that friend. How would you comfort a friend in that position? What would you say?

-       Then read that letter out loud and back to your self.

This may seem childlike, but I promise, this little activity is some strong medicine.

This will bring kindness inward. You cannot “Yes, Sergeant!” your way into being the person with only great days or one who only uses the best tools in dealing with the not-so-great days. Research shows willpower or forcing your way into the box of whoever you think you “should be” are are not sustainable tools.

Compassion is. The act of self-compassion is the magic wand that ignites the light for you to find, and bring to life, your highest self.

Light your path. 

 *A final note here: the more we are capable of turning that compassion inward, the more powerful we become when it comes time to turning it outward. Forgiving yourself is forgiving others. Loving yourself is loving others. Inner work perpetuates the power of the outer work.


With love.