Christmas is a time of year when the message to be good to others, and recognise human suffering, is front and centre. With good reason, of course. This should really be something we think about all year round, not just at Christmas. And yet it is also a time of year when we seem to push ourselves to our absolute limit.
Where are you to be found in this kindness offensive? Where is your self-compassion this Christmas?
Today I read an article about tricks for being kind to yourself. At first, I was intrigued. Who doesn’t love a good shortcut? Then I thought how disappointing it is that we even need instructions. Should kindness really be something you need to trick yourself into. Surely, being kind to yourself should come authentically, without trickery.
The article went on to discuss the idea of Future You. Do something now that Future You will be happy about. A whole list followed, some of which seemed sensible (make your bed), and others less so (go for a run even though you don’t feel like it). Sometimes the kind thing to do is to NOT go for a run. Because you’ve had a hard day, or it’s cold outside, or you’d rather binge on new episodes of the Gilmore Girls (speaking entirely for myself!).
When I speak with people about self-compassion they often describe a fear that it will open up a slippery slope. Typically, people with perfectionistic traits equate self-compassion with ‘laziness’ or ‘giving up’. There is a fear that missing one run will bring the whole world crashing down. That neglecting to punish yourself for a mistake will somehow end up exposing you to the world for what you really are – a failure. It can take some adjustment to change this way of thinking, because if it’s true (and what if it is?) then the consequences are terrifying.
What is ‘Self’-compassion?
Adding the word ‘self’ to compassion does not make it an entirely new concept! You already know how.
Self-compassion is all about treating yourself with the kindness, understanding and forgiveness that you would treat a good friend.
Compassion is about recognising the suffering that exists for humanity, and for individuals. There is no avoiding it.
Do you ever experience guilt, shame, anger or judgment about the difficult emotions you feel? That maybe you brought this pain on yourself through your own failure or poor judgment. Or maybe that you don’t deserve to feel such pain when others are suffering ‘more’.
Life doesn’t always match up to the image you have in your mind. You don’t always match up to the image you have in your mind. So it’s important to take care of yourself when you’re suffering. A wounded animal will retreat in order to regain its strength before venturing out in the world again. So does the self-compassionate person.
Imagine the Suffering Sandwich Board.
If we all walked around wearing a sandwich board outlining our insecurities and pain, we’d realise that everyone else is suffering, just as we are. As human beings we are designed to seek connection to others. Thinking everyone else has got it together brings a sense of isolation that can be incredibly detrimental to mental and physical health. Remember that every person you see walking down the street has suffered in some way. It helps you feel less alone.
You have a wide range of emotions and it’s important to feel them all.
This goes for both positive and negative. Suppressing or exaggerating emotions you find unpleasant will not be terribly helpful in the long run. You can’t feel compassion unless you are first aware of the suffering. But with non-judgmental observation – think mindfulness - it is possible to gain enough distance from the emotions to not get swept away with their intensity. It is also about separating you from what has happened. You cannot be a failure – things fail, people don’t.
Present You. Future You. Or just You?
Mistakes are part of life. Life is not always as idyllic as the summer beer commercials, or the end of the Christmas movie. So yes, be mindful of Future You, but be compassionate to Present You also. Have the extra serve of dessert this Christmas if you want it, and forgive yourself later.