Unwanted changes, unexpected challenges, loss, disappointments, abuse or other forms of adversity often bring with them hurt or harm. Feelings of self-pity are quite normal and understandable. Life has changed in some way and often not for the better. It is only natural to feel sorry for yourself when you are having a hard time. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that you are suffering and unsure how to cope. But if self-pity takes over and you don’t reign it in, it is a very problematic emotion.
The Problem with Self-Pity
Self-pity reinforces the sense of being a victim bringing with it hopelessness and inaction. Your options seem very limited. You are preoccupied with the past and see it as defining your future in a very negative and restrictive way. Your perception narrows to seeing only loss, damage and problems. You believe yourself to be helpless, defeated and vulnerable. Self-pity may keep you rather passive, hoping to be rescued, by someone, somehow.
The Power of Self-Compassion
Self-compassion also acknowledges the difficulty you find yourself in. But it is not about feeling sorry for yourself, blaming others or dwelling on misery. Appreciating the realities of your situation, self-compassion is a nurturing attitude towards yourself. It involves treating yourself with the same kindness, caring and empathy you would have for a very dear friend: gentle and understanding with yourself when you are having a difficult time, feel inadequate or have failed. Instead of allowing your inner critic to take over or getting stuck in victimhood, you look at yourself in a compassionate way and extend comfort and care towards yourself.
When it seems you are the only one who is inadequate or suffering, remember that being human brings with it vulnerability and imperfection. Whatever your experience, keep a balanced perspective rather than ignoring your pain or exaggerating it.
Pathways to Self-Compassion
There are many pathways to self-compassion. Focusing on the physical, soften and relax the body when tight. Mentally, allow your thoughts to come and go without fighting them or getting hooked on them. Focus on those that don’t drag you down or lead you astray. Manage disturbing emotions. They should be neither suppressed nor exaggerated but observed with openness and clarity. Then take action to steer yourself into a calmer state. Connect with others if there is genuine companionship and support.
A Self-Compassion Mantra
When faced with an immediate challenge, something goes wrong, you are stressed or overwhelmed, use these steps (based on Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion):
1. Acknowledge your current state to yourself by using these words or find your own:
This is a moment of suffering. I am having a really hard time right now. It’s painful for me to feel what I am feeling. This is very difficult.
2. Express a self-compassionate wish:
May I accept myself just as I am. May I treat myself with kindness. May I be gentle and understanding with myself. May I be safe … forgive myself … safely endure this pain … find peace in my heart … be strong …kind to myself … protect myself … May I learn to live with ease and well-being … accept the circumstances of my life …be wise and change what I can …
Combine the sentences you resonate with — or find your own — into a mantra of self-compassion. For example, I am really hurting because of what happened in my life. May I remember that I can heal and move on from this with strength and commitment.
Calm Your Energies
Taking a specific posture will affect the flow of energy in your body. It can help unscramble your brain and soothe troubling emotional energy when you feel confused, vulnerable or upset. Do the following exercises with eyes open or closed, whenever you feel the need to settle yourself.
Exercise A: Put your right hand under your armpit near your heart. Put your left hand on your right shoulder. Stay in this posture until you feel a shift.
Exercise B: Put one hand on your forehead. Put the other hand on your chest. When you feel calmer — Leave your hand on the chest. Move the other from the forehead to the belly. Wait until you feel a shift.
Exercise C: Cook’s Hookup, an Energy Medicine technique: Sitting, cross your right ankle over your left. Extend your arms in front of you. Cross your right wrist over your left wrist. Clasp your fingers together and pull your hands underneath your arms and up to your chest. Rest your arms against your body and the hands at your chest. Take four slow deep breaths, in through your nose, out through your mouth.
Use any of these methods and combine it with your mantra or make an affirmation meaningful to you. For example, I can get through this… I have the strength to pick up the pieces and make a fresh start…
Choosing to take responsibility for your inner state will help you heal and remember that you can recover, rebuild and thrive even after you have been stopped in your tracks by fate, other people or even yourself.
After difficult experiences, how have you soothed your inner wounds? How can self-compassion help you in your life? What can you do to heal?