The notion of self compassion is not, I believe, part of our inherited cultural tradition.
The term compassion, as I understand it in English, originated from the mid-14th century word ‘compassioun’, literally “suffering with another,” from the old French word ‘compassion’. It also has the connotation of sympathy or pity.
That understanding of both sympathy and pity has a particular association for me, something I believe I inherited as a child of middle class professional parents. That upbringing in part looked at some people as needing more help than others, because they were more vulnerable. The ‘good-doer’ mindset, if you will, set in.
Given those associations self compassion could be associated with self pity or self indulgence.
And yet self compassion, I believe, suggests that the empathy and understanding we offer to others is what we can and should give to ourselves. By tradition or upbringing, selflessness has often been a prized virtue and yet we know that selflessness can be detrimental to both physical and emotional health.
Caregivers and people who assist others can be overwhelmed by the assistance they offer or give. Extreme selflessness is not a virtue. Self compassion does not give the ‘do-gooder’ instinct in us free rein and suggests we moderate our altruism and live a balanced life, recognizing our own needs, giving ourselves a break, freeing ourselves from the harsh internal criticism of always thinking of others first.