Self-Compassion Vs. Self-Pity

I have made a terrible mistake.

There is a difference between self-compassion and self-pity. It is easy to mistaken our egocentric self-pity as justifiable when we act out and behave inappropriately. These theatrical responses are generated because we feel we are not being heard or seen, just like we yell when we think no one is listening. Anger – even sadness – both enable a sense of empowerment when we feel confused and isolated.

This isolation and confusion, however, is a product of our society and our own mind. We live in a society that demands perfection and “normalcy” that pushes us further away into isolation and we try to blend in and be like everyone else by thinking those feelings are wrong. This experience furthers us away from our own humanity and we begin to react and respond in a way that is not authentic.

When we are so far from our own humanity, we become egocentric and seperate from others and when we decide to push away our actual vulnerabilities, we no longer relate or connect and that can give us a sense of security. We feel disconnected and become so immersed in ourselves that we no longer experience an interpersonal reality. 

However, underlying these responses is the real ‘human’ that is attempting to avoid our fears – fear of abandonment, of being mistreated or feeling hurt – and what this exposes is how these irrational motivations prompted by self-pity can place us at risk of continuing a very vicious cycle. Like cigarette smoking, we start the habit because we believe it may alleviate our tensions, soon enough we become addicted that despite it hurting us believe that we cannot live without it, until finally we become sick from it.

Self-compassion is an objective awareness of our hardships and suffering, but it is also recognising that while we may feel awful about some of our experiences and that indeed we may have been mistreated and hurt by some very bad people, it is not just about me. It is a deduction of this pain into a more broader recognition that life is unpredictable and sometimes painful and that we are vulnerable to making mistakes and experiencing hardship. 

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It is to embrace that pain is supposed to be painful and that our interpersonal relationships and friendships is challenging, however if we ignore the pain, we lash out in all the wrong ways. That we are human. Kristen Neff states that self-compassion is:

  1. Self-kindness
  2. Common humanity
  3. Mindfullness

My mistake has been that I did not accept the challenge of accepting an apology by those who have done wrong to me. It was too painful for me to understand at the time and I lashed out, expecting that somehow they would patiently accept that I was in pain given that it was them who had done wrong to me. 

I am flawed and by recognising this, I realised that I have been egocentric. I was isolated from the feelings of others because I felt like it was only me who has been mistreated and so stopped believing a common humanity existed. This was damaging my own happiness and indeed has proven to be a covert way of hurting myself. 

For instance, my parents have been trying so hard and I pushed them away because I was so afraid that they will hurt me. It was almost like I needed some reassurance that no matter how difficult I was with them, they really wanted to support me. I have also been approached by men but felt that they were all liars, had secret intentions, that something about them was bad or wrong and so I hurt them to push them away.  In some ways, my behaviour was indicative that I wanted proof that I could trust people, but in another way the inappropriate and inconsiderate responses was trying to prove to myself that I was alone.  

One thus becomes critical, use logic as a way to justify judgements of others and therefore rather than engaging and caring for others, you are re-directing your own self-criticisms out to others. As Brene Brown states,

“stop working your shit out on other people”

Mindfulness is about the present and not the past. It is about having the courage to be accountable and accept that you can make some mistakes, but to also be willing to improve by gently recognising that we are all flawed, something self-pity can blind us from realising. Feeling broken is hard to admit because we do not want to feel vulnerable and emotional.

Self-compassion is about treating yourself like a human, like you would a best friend, tolerant of a person who is flawed and vulnerable. When one speaks about how they are feeling, such exposure of their vulnerabilities and fears leaves them weak, sensitive and anxious rather than relieved. It is courageous to be open about how you are feeling. Courage is the outcome of experiencing fear, sensitivity and weakness and doing what you can to overcome it.  

I am so glad that people loved me enough to stick by me despite my flaws and mistakes knowing that I would eventually realise. There is always time to improve and to accept that second chances are possible. Let the past and those within it stay there. You can always begin again.

2 thoughts on “Self-Compassion Vs. Self-Pity

    1. It is easy to do when you have been hurt and especially if you doubt that they have changed and so in some ways we are justified in protecting ourselves. In the end, though, it is not about them but about you, about how you react and respond, and who you decide you want in your life. Setting up healthy boundaries, saying no or learning to trust again is acknowledging your vulnerability and being compassionate to yourself. Reacting in self-pity does no good for you or anyone around you, especially those that actually do care about you. 🙂

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