Self-compassion is Critical

We are in a run of tough years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It looks like things are not improving even as the pandemic impacts subside. The world is, as Randy Stonehill stated it, “turning sour.” Many people are suffering, including those who do not yet realize how much they are suffering. For many, the suffering has crept up on them over time, and they are not fully aware of the suffering or the resulting damage in their lives.

The struggles of the last few years may have been made harder still if we lack self-compassion or if we think this is only happening to us and that we have been singled-out for excessive difficulty.  Kristin Neff, who researches topics related to self-compassion, stated:

Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes.  All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect.”  

We are not alone in our struggles, our pain, or even our mistakes.  We share these in common with all humanity.  Knowing that may help one to extend the same compassion, the same grace and personal caring to self as is given to others. 

Again, from Dr. Neff:  “We’re not alone or singled out in our struggles. Many people have been where we are, and we, like them will get through it. Common humanity helps us extend the same compassion we’d have for others to ourselves, but it also helps us avoid victimization or a sense that we’re different in some way that makes our situation worse than everyone else’s”

It is essential that we notice we are suffering and treat ourselves the way we would a friend going through the same thing.  We must allow ourselves to be moved by our suffering and allow ourselves to respond with compassion to our situations and mistakes.  Just as we would respond to others. 

True self-compassion allows us to offer understanding and kindness to ourselves and to not judge ourselves harshly. This also applies to our mood, meaning we need to have a lot of patience for our own ups and downs.

A few final words from Dr. Neff: “Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment? Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”

The recognition of common humanity entailed by self-compassion also allows us to be more understanding and less judgmental about our inadequacies. Our thoughts, feelings and actions are largely impacted by factors outside of our control: parenting history, culture, genetic and environmental conditions, as well as the demands and expectations of others.  Many aspects of ourselves and the circumstances of our lives are not of our intentional choosing, but instead stem from innumerable factors that our outside our sphere of influence. When we acknowledge this reality, failings and life difficulties do not have to be taken so personally.”

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