A spoonful of sugar - self-compassion is the medicine we all need right now
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Dr Kristin Neff – a leading researcher in this field said “Self-compassion is associated with greater emotional resilience, more accurate self-concepts, and more caring behaviour…It allows us to stop seeing ourselves from a victimised or narcissistic perspective.”
This is important because the feeling of envy of what someone else has – or jealousy of what we may lose – is a common defense to feelings of inferiority, shame, and even the imposter syndrome. What’s worse – although this feeling makes us feel inadequate, to counter it we sometimes place ourselves in the position of superiority and tell ourselves things like “Well, she may have that job, but she’s fat; or he might be the leader but his marriage is falling apart…” – this is how NOT working through the little psychodrama we’re playing out in our heads can affect our behaviours, our relationships, and also our own success as we get caught up with trying to make ourselves feel better by aggressive thinking about others - rather than thinking about what we really want and going out and getting it.
Self compassion helps us address that:
- It lowers the volume of our self-critical inner voice and makes us less susceptible to the "false consensus bias" - the thought that everyone thinks the same, and the narrow focus we then use as we seek out "evidence" to confirm our erroneous belief.
- It enables us to be more “present” and lessens overthinking
- It promotes motivation and self-kindness rather than self-judgment
- We improve our relationships as we manage our vulnerabilities in a healthy way (those we fear most may become our biggest allies!)
- It improves our level of happiness and contentment.
All of this also helps us help others - mainly because we begin to help because we simply want to, rather than for some reward or sense of validation.
So I thought I would ask you to reflect on 5 ideas in this blog:
Just because there was a clash of personalities - it doesn't mean it was personal!
Too often, when we are lacking in self-compassion, we blame ourselves for things that went wrong. To make matters worse, if we also have other fixed ideas that we are being undermined, rejected or otherwise discriminated against because of elements of ourselves that we cannot change (eg. our religion, race, sexuality) - this can cause us to feel even worse. While I am not saying discrimination did not happen - if it did this is not your problem, it is theirs; and if it didn't, then you may be shutting out potential personal development because you believe you can do nothing about it. Don't allow other people's bad behaviour inhibit your growth.
This is where it can help to hear the voices of those who are positive, who bring out the best in you, you help you grow. This doesn't mean they don't tell you the truth about any negative areas, but they do it in a way that builds a supportive area for you to make those changes if you wish.
This week, begin to recognise the people with whom you are at your best. Then thank them - demonstrate your appreciation (kind words, a little gift, opening time for them too) and write their names down - perhaps in the form of a gratitude journal entry. When you feel self-critical, ask yourself - what might "so-and-so" in that list say?
2. Focus on the "right now" rather than the "could have/should have"
Building on from the suggestion of gratitude, try keeping a "gratitude journal" as a regular part of your day...I use the "BLISS" phone app.
When the sense of Competition (often in our head) makes us think about what we haven’t yet achieved or perhaps set out some goals for the year which we are not convinced we will complete. Rather than focus on the "should", "could", or "might have been" - gratitude will help you appreciate the here and now – and how far you have already come.
It can be a good reminder of your own strength and that of the support around you. Even now you can stretch your arms and think of one thing you are grateful to have; stretch your legs and think of one person who you are grateful to (including yourself...or a pet!); and as you stretch your full body think of one aspect of your day you are looking forward to...no matter how small.
Then - through looking honestly at yourself and identifying your aims, as well as thinking about how far you’ve come, you'll move from a sense of self-pity to a great starting point to make the most effective and efficient changes.
3. You can spend time and energy being angry at others or you can spend that time and energy on improving yourself
Both are finite - we only have so many hours and so much drive before exhaustion. Being angry takes up a lot. I am not saying you have to "forgive and forget", but if you can release someone's control over you, you have the freedom to progress. (I would also say, if you can forgive, I would not necessarily forget as you can learn from what happened to avoid a similar issue in future).
Too often I see people spending time on social media getting angry at the behaviour of others - I agree that we are seeing a lot of selfishness, and unfortunately the consequences are not limited to one's self... Take the example of wearing masks - they are there to help you protect others, your choice to wear them is about what you can do for your community more than yourself. It's the same with picking up your own litter. BUT unless you are going to do something practical about it, shouting on social media - often just to be met with validation from people who think the same does not progress anything. I go out "plogging" - picking up litter while jogging; and I send masks as gifts.
Always seek to make a change in something that incenses you, remembering that shouting on social media - unless you are able to educate - is not necessarily the place to do it!
4. "Competition" may be "placed" on you, it might also be in your head
As I said at the start, others - especially those struggling with self compassion - do place competition on us if we are percieved as having something they don't (they are envious), or if they think they may lose something they have (they are jealous). Often, if you feel "threatened" by someone you percieve is "doing better than you" - when you take a step back it is most likely that the "other" (the one we feel most threatened by) doesn't even know how we feel - and they aren't doing it deliberatly. They are just living their life.
Similarly when it is placed on us, either ask someone "Why are you saying/doing that" or simply seek to see them less. Don't get caught in someone else's psychodrama!
If it's you feeling threatened, look at what you might be able to learn from the person you envy or feel jealous of if you were to ask them how they achieved what you wish. Then ask them, even collaborate with them! But if that's too tough, at the very least, admitting you feel envy or jealousy is healthier and less potentially damaging to others than creating passive aggressive defenses in your head.
5. If you do not value yourself - how can you expect others to value you
One thing that frustrates me the most is when I can see potential in others but they are unable to see it. ...and when I hear "Oh everyone tells me that..." it's time for some tough love or else you'll be sitting in self-pity and wasting that potential indefinintely. If you cannot see your own value and yet expect others to see it, firstly, even when they do it means nothing; but secondly it's really like saying "Hey this milk I have is off - why don't you like it?" Foremostly, it's not the responsibility of others to make us believe in ourselves. Not even mine as a coach! I give you the tools, the tecniques, the tips to help you see and to use your inner strength once you have unlocked it, but I don't just shout your good points at you and expect you to change. You still have to pick those tools up and use them.
So, even if you cannot tell yourself how wonderful you are in the way you will believe it; at least start treating yourself a little more compassionately. Think about things you really like to do that make you feel good (and are healthy - "comfort eating" or "netflix binges" are not part of this list, unless you have a limit on them!) eg. exercising, a manicure, learning something new - and instigate one. Make a start at recognising you are important - just by being you.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt