Finding self-compassion through the mirror of discontent
As an American living abroad during last year’s presidential election, I couldn’t help but feel frustration with the state of things back home.
To say things appear to be toxic and divisive would be an understatement.
It seems like everywhere you turn, people are at odds with each other about everything.
“You lost, get over it.”
“Things are going to change, get over it.”
Before I became a coach, I used to be one of those folks who walked around thinking, “just get over it.”
However, these days it is my belief, and the belief of many great scholars, thinkers, and leaders before me that love and compassion are necessities for living an honest and substantial life.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about the importance of seeing past the not-that-big-of-a-deal in everything and recognize that my privilege has a better use; for building up the people what have less privilege than myself, who need it most.
And the truth is; I couldn’t do this without being more loving and compassionate to myself.
Self-compassion is something with which the majority of us struggle.
It’s much easier to beat ourselves up about our perceived failures or prop ourselves up for our perceived strengths while comparing ourselves to the failures and strengths of the other people than it is, to be honest with ourselves.
When we evaluate ourselves so critically, it doesn’t just stay with us.
When we are critical of ourselves, we tend to be less kind to others in turn. I’ve worked with clients who pick apart other people’s lifestyles, partners, and appearances simply because of how they feel about their own.
And we all have done this, and it is not helpful, because as the saying goes, “What Sally says about Jane says more about Sally than it does about Jane.”
In other words, we only end up burning ourselves by thinking and saying cruel and overly critical things.
It is not entirely our fault. Sometimes, our human default setting is not to reassure ourselves we’ve done the best we can.
Sometimes, our default setting is to scrutinize others as harshly as we would ourselves.
When I say the “mirror of discontent” I mean that everything we look to as a source of providing us with feedback about ourselves.
I see this especially on social media over and over again. And I’ve fallen victim to it myself. Say you’re having a bad day and are frustrated with your life, all it takes is a scroll through Instagram or Facebook to watch the highlight reels of other people’s lives to set us off into critical mode.
But you know what? Most of what you see on people’s social media accounts is (at least) slightly fictional. I have worked with individuals who show how great their relationship or career is online and then tell me things are hanging by a thread in real life.
Our perception of other people’s lives doesn’t obligate us to beat ourselves up for not having the same story as they do any more than it does to judge them for living differently than us.
And truthfully, most people are not very transparent about their true selves, and it keeps them from being able to show their vulnerability. If you’re as big of a fan of Brene Brown as I am, then you know what the cost of hiding shame and vulnerability is.
Success is not having an expensive car, high paying job, significant other, or 1% body fat.
Failure is not the absence of those things either.
Success and failure are just feedback, and they are what make us more resilient.
In fact, your resilience is far greater than you give yourself credit. Just stop and think about all of the things you’ve been through in your life – hell, this month alone. I assure you that you have picked yourself up and dusted off more times than you even realise.
But what if you could be more aware of your resilience? What if you could comfort and console yourself along the way?
Being kind to yourself, when you need it most, is a necessity, in fact, it is part of what being human is.
As Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the world of self-compassion states: there are three main components to self-compassion — self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. It is part of the human experience to feel vulnerable and to experience failure or disappointment, but what we don’t need when this happens is to be our worst enemy. It is our moral imperative to build a healthy self-support system and realise that we all feel discontent and we all struggle.
Self-compassion will enable us to be less critical of ourselves and others and further develop our resilient spirit.