Sometimes there’s just no way around it — we’re uncomfortable. Having the capacity to feel deeply means that we’ll have moments of excitement, joy, love, laughter, peace… and also boredom, sadness, anger, tears, and anxiety.
However, it’s often through our judgment of our distressing emotions that we end up having more of them. For instance, maybe you wake up one morning feeling blue. You’re not exactly sure why, but you’re just not motivated to get going with your day. You just don’t feel like eating breakfast, showering, and getting dressed. The simplest tasks seem monumental or at the very least have lost their luster.
Then — and this is the key — you begin to judge yourself for feeling down or overwhelmed. You wonder what’s wrong with you and why other people seem to handle life with more ease. You tell yourself that you’re overly sensitive and that something must be wrong with you.
Does this ever happen to you? How do you feel as a result? My guess is that your self-criticism only makes matters worse. You might try to change your mood with excessive drinking or eating, shopping, escaping into fantasy, or other behaviors that only compound the problem.
Instead, how about practicing self-compassion and self-acceptance? By this I don’t mean allowing your mood to rule your day and just going back to bed — although if you truly need some extra sleep, that may be in order. Acceptance means acknowledging that we’re uncomfortable, but that we needn’t rage against our discomfort.
According to psychologist and researcher Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion has three main facets:
1) Common humanity. Recognizing that when you suffer or fail short of your expectations you’re not alone, that all people go through this, can keep you out of the “compare and despair” trap. It’s often helpful to speak with trusted people about what you’re experiencing, to receive assurance that you’re not strange or different. In addition, developing meaningful connections with others in which you share struggles as well as useful tips can remind you of how we’re all connected.
2) Mindfulness. Simply noticing our feelings and experience without judgment is one of the fruits of a meditation practice. However, it’s possible to practice mindfulness at any moment, by acknowledging our feelings yet not getting caught up in them. For instance, you can make a mental note such as “fearful”, “sad”, “I like this”, or “I don’t like this” without additional commentary.
3) Self-kindness. Being gentle and patient with yourself no matter what can help you to manage challenging times without adding fuel to the fire. In fact, when you practice letting go of self-criticism you’ll be more motivated to take good care of yourself. Self-kindness includes taking responsibility and acting in constructive ways, with the understanding that you are worth it — not because you’re perfect, but because you’re human.
So, the next time you find yourself waging an internal war against discomfort, give self-compassion a shot. In addition, you’re likely to find that as you extend compassion toward yourself, you’ll feel more compassion toward other people. It really is a win-win approach.