The other day, my therapist gave me a handout on self-compassion. My “assignment” is to read through it and make some notes on what stands out to me. Since she reads my blog, (Hi, J!) why not expand my notes into an entire post?
A Definition of Self-Compassion
Self-compassion has to do with accepting that we are not infallible and treating ourselves gently when we’re suffering. Just like you’d extend understanding and compassionate support to someone else, we can strive to do the same for ourselves. As humans, we’re going to make mistakes; our imperfections are not only part of what make us unique, but their existence is also a common element shared among all humans. The handout encourages readers to stop fighting against the reality that we are imperfect beings.
Here’s my initial reaction to that bit of advice: but if I stop fighting it, I’ll stop improving.
I worry that if I stop fighting the reality that I’m going to make mistakes, I’ll end up stagnating. If you also hold this belief, I wonder if we can change it by convincing ourselves that the components of success don’t necessarily include criticism and harsh judgment. You can like yourself and still be motivated to grow and improve. (This is what the Dialectics in DBT is all about; two seemingly opposed things can be valid at the same time. It’s about finding the middle ground.) Not to mention, you don’t need to beat yourself up for your mistakes in order to learn from them.
Acceptance vs. Resignation
At the heart of it lies another DBT concept, the difference between acceptance and resignation. Acceptance is the ability to recognize and come to terms with the reality of a situation. It leaves room for you to change it. Resignation doesn’t. When you’re resigned to something, it’s like putting blinders on. You see the reality of what’s in front of you, but not the opportunities to your left and right. With acceptance, you can understand that something is the way it is and still take steps to change it.
Here’s where I run into trouble. Depression comes with behavioral symptoms that can get in the way of my productivity. When I sleep too much, for example, it somehow feels easier to be hard on myself than to accept that my illness causes these symptoms. Why? Probably because it gives me a sense of control. If I take responsibility for things that are out of my control, I don’t have to face that they are, in fact, out of my control. It scares me to feel like a victim of my illness. I’d rather be hard on myself for something that’s not my fault than relinquish my (false) sense of control over my actions. I think the key issue is that I’m not distinguishing between acceptance and resignation. I can accept that depression causes me to experience symptoms. If I accept that (not resign myself to it), then there are actions I can take to combat those symptoms, and practicing self-compassion will be easier.
Keep in mind I said “easier“. I’ll be honest, self-compassion is something I’m really struggling with. How can I hold myself accountable for working to get better without being judgmental when it’s not going to plan? It seems like a delicate balance, but my current strategy is not serving me in the way that I’d like. I guess it’s time to invest in a tightrope.
Are there times when you struggle with self-compassion? How do you remedy it? Share your tips in the comments!