When I was young I was really difficult for me to identify my pain, especially when I used to pepper my parents with questions about life in India and then feeling like I didn't have the right to be upset about something at school for example, because well, I got to go to school and besides, I always had food to eat and never doubted the roof over my head.
As I grew up and began therapy for the severe anxiety that cradled these worries about others, I began to understand the harm in my unchecked empathy; I allowed myself to see that while awareness of other people's struggles was a valuable way to keep my pain in perspective, it was not a legitimate reason to disregard my own fears. Disparaging my feelings as being less important to what I heard about in the news or from other people only led me to denial and repression, not the transcendence I had assumed. Over time, all that unprocessed pain and fear festered in my body and, I believe, created the instability that allowed Ulcerative Colitis to take ahold in my body.
Needless to say (though unbeknownst to me at the time), stuffing my internal systems with unprocessed emotions in no way helped alleviate the pain of others.
With the encouragement and support of a loving, wise teacher, I slowly learned that experiencing my own hurt was the real gateway to compassion and empathy for other human beings. She taught me that feelings of loss, abandonment, loneliness, and fear are universal, and, in that sense, created equal. Regardless of what leads me to feel the way I do, my comprehension of what it means to be human is deepened by my own experiences. Accordingly, by rejecting my emotions because I think an experience is not dramatic or important enough, I miss out on my own humanity.
But when we honor and value the human experience however it shows up — when we fully inhabit our bodies and allow space for our emotions — we move past the individual narrative that keeps us separate from others and connect at a collective level. And the next time we hear a story of someone else's suffering, our hearts can resonate with understanding and compassion—for all of us.
From my teacher:
Self-compassion requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. This equilibrated stance stems from the process of relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective without suppressing our emotions. It stems from the willingness to mindfully observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity;. After all, we cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time.