Mindless suffered from a severe dependency on, in fact an enslavement to self-pity. He describes a feeling of inadequacy. He describes being angry at G-d, the world, me, and even himself for falling short, refusing to accept reality for what it was, instead of what he imagined it should be. He often told himself things like “my life is worse than anyone else’s,” “nobody else has to deal with such things,” “nobody is suffering like I am suffering.” He became so encumbered by these thoughts that he would get caught up in a cycle of negativity. When he would try to ignore his thoughts and feelings of inadequacy they expressed themselves in very destructive ways. What Mindless needed to learn was to practice self-compassion. But, how is this different from self-pity?
Dr. Kristen Neff explained that self-compassion includes three components.
Below are the three elements of self-compassion:
Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. People cannot always be or get exactly what they want. When this reality is denied or fought against, suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism. When this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced.
2. Common humanity.
Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes. All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.
Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. This equilibrated stance stems from the process of relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective. It also stems from the willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.
I find this lesson an important one for me as well. I can get lost in the negatively of self-pity after all that has happened. G-d knows, I certainly have done that. But, I too need to practice self-compassion. I think it is the difference between holding onto the pain as a security blanket, staying a victim to it VERSUS being vulnerable to the pain, letting go of the security blanket, and learning to not just survive, but once again thrive. All so easy to say; now, if it were only as easy to do.