Despite the fact that there is a great deal of research to support the benefits of self-compassion, many people still have a lot of resistance to this word and to giving it a try themselves. In this video and blog series, I’ll be addressing the common myths of self-compassion in hopes that it will encourage you to give self-compassion a try yourself.
You can watch the video on myth #1: self-compassion is the same as self-pity (or read more below) to learn more about the difference between self-compassion and self-pity.
The Difference Between Self-Compassion and Self-Pity
In my video introducing the five most common objections to self-compassion practice, I introduced you to the self-compassion scale created by Dr. Kristin Neff. If you haven’t taken the questionnaire yet yourself, I’d really encourage you to check it out. It’s a great way to check-in with yourself and see not only your overall self-compassion score but where you’re at in the specific areas that make up self-compassion.
One of the common objections that come up around self-compassion practice is this–
“Isn’t self-compassion just the same as feeling sorry for myself?”
There’s a big misconception that being kind to ourselves is the same as feeling sorry for ourselves, which is why I want to clarify the difference between self-compassion and self-pity.
The reason we might confuse the two is because we probably have more experience seeing people feel sorry for themselves than seeing people practice compassion towards themselves. So when we think about turning towards ourselves, instead of away, when we feel pain, the first thing that comes to mind is a pity party.
Here’s an example of a situation I see fairly often with working with global nomads and how self-pity might manifest:
The move to your new country isn’t going as smoothly as you’d expected it to be. You’re exhausted, you keep running into obstacles left and right, and the relocation company that was supposed to help you isn’t responding to your calls and emails. If you’re feeling self-pity, here are some thoughts that might run through your head–
- Why was I so stupid to think that I could survive abroad?
- Why do these kinds of things always happen to me?
- This isn’t fair
- This is all my fault.
- Of course I’d have bad luck like this
- Everyone else has it easier when they go abroad
When we feel self-pity, we become obsessed about our own problems and lose sight of the fact that others have problems too–sometimes very similar ones. We forget about how we’re connected to others and tend to view ourselves as the only ones who are suffering. When we experience self-pity we tend to get wrapped up in our emotional drama and catastrophize the extent of our suffering.
When we’re experiencing self-pity it’s really hard to step back and gain perspective about what’s happening to us. Which means it’s also really hard to brainstorm what to do in the situation.
Whereas self-pity tends to say “poor me,” self-compassion recognizes that life is hard for everyone. It allows us to feel less isolated when we’re going through a hard time. It also helps us create a mental space that allows us to “zoom out” and put things in perspective in a larger context—when we remind ourselves that others are struggling as well, we can often see the bigger picture and our current struggles may seem more manageable.
I also want to clarify that self-compassion doesn’t mean invalidating how we’re feeling. Your pain is still important and deserving of validation and soothing. We don’t just push the hard moments “under the rug.” However, we also don’t want to get overidentified with our emotional experience and caught up in the story. Instead, we acknowledge what we’re feeling with kindness and that tends to help us process and let go of them more quickly.
In that same instance of struggling to adjust to life in a new country, a more self-compassionate response would be—
- This is so very hard, and I’m here for you. You’re not alone.
- These challenges can be so painful. I’m sorry you have to go through this. I love you and we’ll be ok.
- This sucks, what do you need?
Research suggests that people who are higher in self-compassion don’t tend to ruminate on things as much. They don’t throw themselves a pity party and think about their problems over and over again. This is great news not only because it demonstrates that self-compassion will not lead you to feeling sorry for yourself, but also because rumination tends to be associated with anxiety and depression. We know that self-compassion has benefits for mental health and it appears that it may be because it reduces the tendency to ruminate.
Sounds pretty great, huh? If you’re asking yourself “how can I get started with self-compassion today?” then I encourage you to try taking a break. A self-compassion break.
The Self-Compassion Break
The self-compassion break involves the three components of self-compassion (mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness) and it’s a tool you can use anywhere you are, any time of day. It also incorporates physical touch which can be a really powerful self-soothing tool. This is because emotional pain activates our brain’s alarm system (fight-flight-freeze) and physical touch helps to remind our brain that we’re safe. Here’s how it works:
Bring to mind something that’s going on right now that causes you stress. It could be something at work, or at home, but try to choose something relatively small (like a 3 on a scale of 0-10). Think about it as wading into the shallow end with self-compassion. Don’t plunge yourself into the deep end by choosing something that will overwhelm you with painful feelings. Choose something more minor to get comfortable practicing this skill.
Now bring some mindfulness to this pain. Our tendency is to get wrapped up in the story our mind is telling us, or overidentified with the feeling. With mindfulness, we simply observe that we’re hurting. You can say things like:
- Ouch! This hurts
- This is a moment of suffering
- This is so hard
Next, we want to bring some common humanity into the mix. Our tendency is to feel isolated when we’re hurting. We might think something is wrong with us, or that we’re all alone. Common humanity helps us to remember that being an imperfect human is hard. You can say:
- I’m not alone
- It’s so hard to be human
- This feels awful, but I know others hurt like this too
And finally, we want to bring in some self-kindness to counteract our tendency to criticize ourselves. This is also when you can bring in some physical touch. I really like both hands over my heart, but some people prefer a hug, resting their hands on their lap, or even putting one hand in a fist and placing it on your chest. And then think about what you’d really like a friend to tell you right now, or what would you tell a friend who is going through something hard? Here are some ideas of phrases:
- I’m here for you
- I’m so sorry you’re going through this
- Let’s take this one step at a time
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