What kind of person does that?! (Self compassion in practice!)
We ask this question a lot when faced with exasperating behaviour "What kind of person does that!?" ...and sometimes the answers are:
- a mean one
- a nasty one
- a stupid one
- an evil one
...and we decide - I don't want to see that person anymore, and we are of course within our rights to do that.
But what if we are asking that question of ourselves? For example:
What kind of person damages someone else's property!?
What kind of person copies someone else's work!?
What kind of person lies on their CV!?
The answer to all of the above is ME...I'm the person who has done that:
- I scratched my mum's watch when I was 5 years old
- I copied a classmate's work when I was 13
- and I lied on my CV at 18 because I was desperate to get a role so I claimed that I could speak Cantonese
...oh I was in trouble for all of them - and I've never really gotten around to answering the question properly until, well, around now-ish!
The answer I'd always given myself was "A nasty person", "A stupid person", "A person even more stupid than the one that copied!...and then got found out and dropped by her agent so add "unworthy" to that too!" - and if you've ever spoken to yourself like that, you'll know it then brings up such a feeling of shame that you repress it and never really want to think about it again...but "Nasty, Dumb and Dumber with a helping of unworthiness"...that somehow sticks!!
Now a quick caveat - I do NOT expect you (or anyone) to like that type of person...why should I, I didn't like them much either. Neither do I expect you to make it worse by reinforcing or taking advantage of any limiting beliefs, admittedly!! But the person who DOES have to like me...is the one that has to live with me...ME!!
So this is what I am learning to do.
I write down the things I am ashamed of as they pop into my mind (you can do this long term if reflecting on long-held beliefs; or you can do this for yesterday, or the last week.)
I ask the question "What kind of person does that?"
I ANSWER the question:
- (Damage to property) A frustrated person - a person who did not have the words to express that they wanted to be acknowledged for who they were and their needs, not what their parents decided they "should" be. A person who felt unheard and unseen.
- (Copying work) An insecure person - a person who didn't trust in themselves enough that they were good enough and wanted to be praised so badly.
- (Lying on CV) Similar to the above, but (reflecting more deeply on the circumstances) - a person who never thought they would actually be in the position to be called on to prove it. (I had just secured a voice over for an advert and suddenly my agent focused on getting my CV out to everyone...I'd only included Cantonese because I thought it made me look good to get my foot in the door).
In unpicking the behaviour - I realise that when it comes to me, I'm not a "bad" person or a "stupid" person, or an "unworthy" person...and first of all I can finally stop trying to prove that I'm not those things to anyone and everyone to the point where people have even said to me "You don't need to convince me"...and "I cannot believe you have a lever arch file of your certificates."
Then I can look at the "truth" of the situation and deal with the behaviours that shame has repressed:
- frustration over being truly seen (While I have a "public persona", I have now built a wonderful network of friends who love "me" as me...the me I call the "Bridget Jones clumsy me"...they call it "charm", bless them...not a "me" they created in their heads that I have to live up to...which in some ways I still do in my public life because you're only as good as your last article right!?)
- insecurity over my own efforts (I take a moment to ask myself - what do I think I need help with and seek it out; and I also remind myself that it's ok to suck at stuff, and with work and focus I tend to get better at the things I really want!)
- "imposter syndrome" (I don't lie anymore...if someone wants me, they often want me for me...they way this plays out in my working life is that I am a very immersive trainer - and I'm hired by people who want that style those that don't won't ask for me, but I don't pursue them either!...and I'm OK with that!)
Start doing this for you, and you'll, hopefully, come to a place where you can accept yourself, and then from there choose how to grow...and then maybe even support your loved ones to do the same. (In my case I firstly realised that I only had a list of 8 really "shameful" moments I'd been repressing...and first thought "Is that it!?"...why have I spent 46 years trying to be judged as "perfect" based on those 8 moments...which actually all amounted to a similar thing - a need to be loved and included; and now I look at what makes me feel loved and included, and do a lot more of that!!...and the rest turns out pretty well because, well, as you know from my other articles - "perfection" is impossible so aim for excellence anyway!)
Now to extend the earlier caveat a little further at this point - when it comes to helping others...sometimes it is important to remember we cannot save people from themselves. Think of this situation as a tiger chasing you - at this point, please, do NOT stop and start to reflect on the tiger's possible inner truth...just run. Many people are NOT trained counsellors, so it is NOT your job to intervene and analyse. Where you can be of the greatest support is to signpost them, perhaps even accompany them to their support sessions, but know your own boundaries too. (Often it might be an inner voice saying "You MUST make them better or you're not worthy/won't be liked/aren't of value...and it's worth asking yourself "What kind of person says that!?" - the technique works in reverse too!)
So in summary:
- Don't let shame hold you back - reflect on those moments and unpick "What sort of person does that"
- When this is you - help that person, be there for that person, love and accept that person; for others, help them seek help, or if you have to, walk away.
- AND if you catch yourself in a moment of self-criticism, use the technique to work backwards to find out who that person was when that little critical voice was first created.
- Then if you are using this technique as an ongoing tool - remember, that if you have done a lot of this work, if you find yourself in a situation where you are having to let someone down, or perhaps risk not being liked, or maybe backtrack on something (things I absolutely dislike in myself...yet have done), perhaps the answer to the question "What sort of person would do that", is a brave one, one with integrity...and one who will learn and try to avoid a repeat situation in future.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. 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 self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt