“Being human is not about being any one particular way; it is about being as life creates you—with your own particular strengths and weaknesses, gifts and challenges, quirks and oddities.” (Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself)
I told some friends recently that as a teenager, I often felt lonely. They were floored. “WHY???” They couldn’t picture it, which tells me how far I have come in getting out there and meeting people and having fun. Reading Kristin Neff’s book, I realized that loneliness comes from feeling disconnected from others. Because I really yearned to be one of the group back then, I felt so afraid of rejection that I rarely even showed my real self. I must have felt too afraid to try.
Remember that as Neff defines self-compassion, there are 3 core components: mindfulness, self-kindness, and “a recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering.”
Of course it makes sense that if you are continually judging and criticizing yourself, at the same time being kind to others, you are drawing artificial boundaries and distinctions that only lead to feelings of separation and isolation. This is the exact opposite of cultivating a feeling of interconnection.
When my daughter makes a bad choice and behaves inappropriately, I don’t tell her she is dumb or has no will power. I would never want her to think that because she did one thing, she is bound for a lifetime of shortcomings and failure. No, we focus on learning from mistakes, as do I and her daddy and other people she knows. We are all works in progress. It’s actually a relief to be nothing special in this particular instance, but rather one of the many human beings who often make mistakes and learn from them.
“The truth is, everyone is worthy of compassion. The very fact that we are conscious human beings experiencing life on the planet means that we are intrinsically valuable and deserving of care.”
Compassion, by definition, involves another person. It literally means “to suffer with.” The emotion stems from the recognition that the human experience is imperfect. Self-compassion honors the fact that all human beings are fallible, that wrong choices and feelings of regret are inevitable, not matter how above it we feel.
It is important that we remember that feelings of inadequacy and disappointment are shared by all. It is not just me who fears rejection at times or regrets saying or doing something at other times. That is possibly one reason there are so many public speaking seminars around!
If we recognize that belongingness is one of the core needs of the self and that loneliness comes from feeling disconnected from others, why on earth do we keep creating subsets of people, putting them in groups and separating “us” from “them?” Any disconnection like that is bound to lead to hate and prejudice.
Rather than pointing fingers, we need to be drawing circles with our arms.
I admit that when I first learned of a particular artist’s success, I was insanely jealous and resentful. I thought of her as separate from me in all regards, even though we are very much alike. I was comparing myself to her and feeling incredibly bad about myself. Then I finally realized that those feelings weren’t doing me any good and certainly weren’t going to change anything. I decided to align myself in friendship with her (at least in my head), and celebrate her success. I acknowledge her struggles and understand her ups and downs because they are similar to my own. How can that not be a good thing? When I finally met her in a class, she was beyond inclusive and caring and she would never wish anyone to feel shame or jealously on her account.
“Our humanity can never be taken away from us, no matter how far we fall. The very fact that we are imperfect affirms that we are card-carrying members of the human race and are therefore always, automatically, connected to the whole.” (Neff)
We are doing the best we can.
Why do we take our “failures” so hard? Of course we know ourselves best of all. We are with ourself all day long, never able to lose touch with our thoughts or emotions or behaviors. However, looking with a compassionate lens, we can try to recognize that we are not self-contained units. We change based on circumstances: history, education, family, genetics, environment. Once we can realize that we are the product of all sorts of factors, we can admit that we don’t need to take ourselves as seriously as we do.
“When we acknowledge the intricate web of causes and conditions in which we are all imbedded, we can be less judgmental of ourselves and others. A deep understanding of interbeing allows us to have compassion for the fact that we’re doing the best we can given the hand life has dealt us.” (Neff)
I really like that… Going back to my very first self-compassion post, I can accept that the person on the street corner asking for money really is a product of a particular set of circumstances and that perhaps she really is doing her best right now.
This concept is bound to help me let go of my unrealistic expectations as well. I can use the experience of suffering to soften. I can allow that I am part of a larger humanity. I can accept myself right here, right now, as a work in progress.
Missed any Self-compassion September posts? Read them here.