My Struggle with Self-Compassion

39_4shotsMy latest piece, “39”, is about softening…

…specifically about softening to myself.

How is having compassion for oneself so hard?

I can pour compassion for the people involved in terrible events world-wide, for friends who lose their jobs or relationships, for my son, Gabriel, when he falls and hurts himself.

But for myself? Now, that is a challenge.

My habit is harshness. I am the first (and often the only one) to criticise myself for spilling something, for not saying what I wanted to say, for not being able to resist ‘temptation’. I’ll even be harsh towards myself for being too harsh to myself!

39_twigcloseup2And it’s not just for things that happen in the moment: I’ll look back with disdain on ‘bad’ things I did in the past, believing they cast a black mark over me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m good and lovely too – I know that. But often the ‘bad’ things feel like they obscure that goodness inside.

Learning to love myself – by that I mean the physical/emotional/mental act of sending myself love and receiving that into my being – is something I’ve been practising for quite a while. I can easily love the parts of me that I like but when I try to love the things I don’t like, I often hit a brick wall.

And that’s not where I want to be. Because not being able to bring compassion to the parts of me that I don’t like causes hardness in my being – this creates a block to me being the gentle, loving, authentic person I long to be.

39_fromthebottomupIn order to develop personally I need to accept and have compassion for all of me. I need to have empathy for the person I was when I made past decisions, and understand that actions I take these days don’t always come from a place of peace and perfection.

I gave birth for the first time at 39. Little did I realise how much change the little boy I pulled from the birthing pool in our front room would bring. I spent much of the first year of motherhood crying. I was letting go of one identity and moving into another. I felt like I’d jumped off a diving board and been thrown into a deeper version of myself.

Part of that change was starting to paint. I picked up a paintbrush for the first time 9 months after becoming a mother. My creative journey has led me even further into spiritual, emotional and mental healing. I work with my thoughts and emotions like never before.

And it’s easy to look back on the 39 years before I let myself be what I am – an artist – with disdain and disconnection. I was an overweight girl who stole money from her Mum’s purse to buy chocolate. I was a BMW-driving, Microsoft-working, money-driven 20-something who ignored all the things she really wanted and married the ‘wrong’ guy. I was a business-building life coach who pushed far too hard for success, being persuaded that it had to be that way.

I need to learn to accept my past; to have compassion for the person I was when I took those actions. And this piece – which I’ve called 39 – is helping me do that.

It came out intuitively – from playing with twigs, which had been foraged from a local garden, on a piece of blotting paper on my studio floor.

39_twigcloseupThe next few stages were exploratory – trying to figure out how to attach the twigs to the paper. I settled on copper wire, which I threaded through previously needle-punched holes in the paper. There are two hoops of copper wire over each twig and they themselves create two independent curving structures within the main shape.

Once finished, I realised I wanted to put the piece on the wall, but that I didn’t want to put it behind glass. It’s so tactile, so real, and I felt glass would just harden it. So, I found a mount and backing board and attached both, making the piece mountable, but totally open.

Each twig represents one year of my life before I gave it over to what’s always, at my deepest level – driven me: the pure pursuit of beauty.

The years I ‘wasted’ doing the whole career-building thing. My teen-age, when eating kilogram bars of chocolate in my room was a regular occurence. The many times over that I overrode what I really felt and listened to what someone else told me I needed to do.

As I gently touch the birch and willow, I connect with the rawness of who I was back then. The pain I was going through, the things I didn’t realise. And I know, with a soft heart and often water-filled eyes that I was doing my best.

We all are.



  1. Thanks as always Alison for being so real and sharing the “in betweens” with us <3 I identify with many of the ideas here, and have scrutinized myself even for identifying with them in the past. Thinking "is this a me thing?" or "an all women thing?" or neither and really only being a human with a certain set of experiences and personality traits. Regardless the answer is, "it's okay", but interesting how difficult it is to say that to yourself. Thanks again and much love!

    1. Thanks Ginni. I feel so strongly about the ‘in-betweens’ thanks for mentioning that. So much in the virtual world is ‘I’ve got this all together’ and it’s so rarely true. I have heard Pema Chodron talk often about what happened when the Dalai Lama first came to the West. He didn’t understand the ‘self-hate’ that he started to see around him – they just don’t have that in Tibet. That makes me wonder – what is different there? What’s the key? And I also often wonder if it was so prevalent 100, 200, 300 years ago…before the spread of media as we know it.

  2. Beautiful writing and sculptural piece, Alison. I can completely relate to the lack of compassion one can feel for oneself. I have struggled with this all my life, especially my young adult life, and am so tired of beating myself up over the littlest things and carrying around so much perplexing guilt for no good reason at all. It is puzzling how hard it is for me to love every part of myself when it is quite effortless for me to accept, forgive, and even appreciate others for being imperfect. I’m glad that you’re finding ways of accessing that elusive compassion, and it’s inspiring when people can do that in a way others can witness, such as through art. It is a message worth spreading and I’m grateful for all the sharing that you do in this space and others. Love, Kylie xxx

    1. Thanks Kylie. I feel it’s important for me to share what I’m witnessing, especially when I know how much others suffer with the same things I do. When I play, I just can’t access that harsh self-critical part of me. It’s such a releif! It feels like I see that same thing in the yoga postures you’ve been posting on IG recently…

  3. Thought provoking. Thank you. It is so hard to let go and forgive ourselves for our past self but is so important to relinquish and move on in the journey.

    1. Thanks for commenting Fay, I’m glad you liked it. I agree. Otherwise we stay stuck and that’s never a good thing.

  4. So beautiful in it’s simplicity Alison. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. Takes a lot of guts to be so vulnerable – congratulations.

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Alison faith Kay

I am an artist
who creates with
foraged nature,
natural pigments &
hand-made paint.

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