I sat in my car, toddler whining in the backseat, downing the last sip of coffee in my cup, and dreading the moment to come: walking in the grocery store to see empty shelves and panicked people. Tears welled up in my eyes. I wanted to avoid the fear. Avoid the anxiety of seeing no food on the shelves. Avoid looking people in the eyes to see their panic too. Protect my toddler from all the chaos of the Coronavirus pandemic.
In this moment I realized I had a choice to make. The voices in my head could go down one of two paths:
Path #1- Self-Criticism: “Why is all of this happening? And why am I so afraid? I’m being such a sissy… Just pull it together. No one cares about your little complaints; there are a lot bigger problems out there. Put on a strong smile and fake it.”
Path #2- Self-Compassion: “Man, this really is tough. My feelings are valid, and I was not prepared for this situation. It’s even okay to cry a little bit; I’m sure other people can relate to how I’m feeling. Just breathe for a moment; you don’t have to have it all together.”
The differences in these two examples of self-talk are drastic. Self-criticism leads to inner turmoil, increased anxiety, and thus greater relational tension; while self-compassion allows for a sense of inner wholeness and peace which can lead to healthier and more genuine connection with others.
Think for a moment about these 3 questions:
1) How would you treat a close friend who is struggling? What words come to mind, what tone of voice do you use, and what body language would you portray?
2) How do you treat yourself when you are struggling? What words do you typically say to yourself and what is your inner tone of voice/body language?
3) Is there a difference?
For most of us, there is a stark difference. With a friend, we are quick to show understanding, empathize, and validate whatever challenges are present. We feel open to hearing whatever is going on, and show that we are willing to help. With ourselves, we are quick to cast judgment, brush struggles aside, and deal harshly with our weaknesses. We make little space for acknowledging our own pain, and even think something is wrong with us when we become aware of our frailties.
Think how different we would feel in times of hardship, if we treated ourselves with the same compassion that we show others?
Moreover, many people of faith feel shameful for having feelings such as fear, anger, or sadness. We tell ourselves things like- “If my faith is real, I wouldn’t be having this emotion right now. I should hide how I’m feeling so that other people don’t know how weak I am. I’m sure God wouldn’t want to hear about this feeling, either.”
Think how different we would feel if instead of hating and hiding away our frailties because we viewed them as wrong or sinful, we actually could embrace them because there is a loving God who cares for us when we are in pain? What if, rather than viewing our pain through the eyes of shame or criticism, we could remember that God’s compassionate character stands true even when I am weak? This is the idea of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” [emphasis added]
This is the powerful idea that counselors call self-compassion, or as I also like to say, channeling God’s compassion toward myself.
Dr. Kristin Neff, researcher and pioneer in the study of self-compassion, has given some helpful definitions of self-compassion, and outlined 3 elements of self-compassion and their antidotes. Here are some brief descriptions of each. Which category do you typically fall under when facing something challenging?
Definitions of Self-Compassion:
-Treating ourselves with the same kindness as we would a close friend
-Treating ourselves with the same quality of warmth, care, and concern as we would a close friend
- To “feel” compassionate towards ourselves as we do for others
Self-Compassion vs. Self-Criticism
-Being aware, and non-judgmental about whatever is happening in the moment
-Turning toward painful emotions and noticing them
Example: “This is a moment of suffering.”
-Extreme of suppressing and avoiding the difficulty, or becoming lost in it
Example: “This isn’t happening” or “This is too much, I won’t be able to handle it!”
-Actively soothing or comforting oneself
-Treating oneself with kindness and warmth
-Being an inner-ally to oneself
Example: “[Own name], what can I do to help the situation?”
-Seeing one’s own suffering and becoming critical of oneself
-Judging what is being felt as good or bad
Example: “This is an awful thing to feel. I can’t believe I’m feeling this way right now!”
-Viewing our struggles as something that connects us with others
Example: “Suffering is a part of life. I am not alone. This is normal.”
-Believing we are alone in our suffering
-Believing that something has gone terribly wrong if we are struggling
Example: “This shouldn’t be happening!” or “No one can relate to this.”
What would it look like to begin softening your inner dialogue to sound more like compassion, rather than criticism? Perhaps this question raises some concern or anxiety within you, as it does for many. That little feeling of concern is welcome, too! What might your concern be?
Here are five common concerns regarding practicing self-compassion, and some research by Dr. Neff and Scriptures that may help ease your concerns:
Common concern: Self-compassion is weak; I’ll be a sissy if I talk “compassionately” to myself
Research: Self-compassion is actually one of the most powerful coping skills we have to increase our resilience in life
Common concern: Self-compassion will lead to laziness
Research: Self-compassion is actually correlated to increased levels of motivation because there is less fear of failure
Research: Self-compassion is actually linked to greater well-being because if you like yourself, you’ll take care of yourself
Common concern: Self-compassion will lead to decreased self-responsibility or I won’t learn from my mistakes
Research: Self-compassion is actually linked to increased self-responsibility because it is safe to admit mistakes and make genuine repairs
Common concern: Self-compassion is selfish
Research: Self-compassion is a key piece in sustaining compassionate relationships to others by helping reduce feelings of burn out
Research: Self-compassion is actually in itself an act of compassion for others, because our peaceful, loving state of mind is contagious!
Common concern: Self-compassion isn’t biblical
Scriptures: Part of Gods character is compassionate (Psalm 103:13, Psalm 116:5, Psalm 51:1, Psalm 145: 8-9)
Scriptures: Our Savior lived compassionately (Hebrews 4:15, Matthew 14:13-14, Matthew 20:30-34, Mark 6:34)
Scriptures: We are called to live compassionately (Colossians 3:12, Ephesians 4:32)
Scriptures: Self-condemnation is not biblical (Romans 8:1)
Though we will likely continue to face unknowns and anxiety during this pandemic, we do not have to do so without the power of compassion. We are invited to see ourselves as God sees us. We are invited to look at our weaknesses and unwanted feelings through the eyes of compassion. And I believe that as we do so, it will create an inner sense of peace and calm that will be as contagious as any virus could ever be.
Published on Apr 13 @ 1:29 PM CDT