Self-Compassion in the Face of Uncertainty

person resting hand on hip

It has been more than a year since the pandemic started, and we all were buzzing about the concept of the “new normal”. But with the first wave, second wave, different restrictions and lockdowns happening from time to time, how do we adapt when the situation is constantly changing, and also getting more terrifying? At the moment, as I write this blog post, I am sitting in Maharashtra, the worst affected state in all of India. Everyday I hear about someone I know testing positive, or in worse conditions. The only word that gets highlighted everyday is: uncertain.

Human beings don’t like uncertainty. It creates fear and despair. We as a bunch like to be in control of things, and if we can’t be in full control of the situation, we rely on reassurance that everything is going to be okay. At the moment however, control seems bleak, and it’s difficult to reassure one another and our ourselves with the amount of negative news we keep getting bombarded with. This feeling doesn’t sit well with us, so some of us adopt avoidance strategies by drowning ourselves in work or hiding in the Netflix world. Some of us try to regain that control by trying to help others in whatever way possible. We all have different ways of coping. But we forget one thing in all of this-and that is, accepting the situation for what it is and practicing self-compassion in order to keep our mental health balanced.

Self-Compassion

Self-Compassion has been defined by Neff with the help of three components:

  • Self-Kindness vs Self-Judgement: This component suggests that we should be understanding and kind towards ourselves when we face some difficulty or failure. For example, in the middle of a global pandemic if you feel like you are panicking or getting anxious, which prevents you from concentrating on your work, go easy on yourself. Understand that the current situation IS anxiety provoking and that’s okay. Don’t start name calling yourself or criticize yourself for feeling weak. Self-compassion requires the acceptance of the reality but with empathy and by being gentle on yourself.
  • Common Humanity vs Isolation: The second component defines self-compassion in the context of understanding that being human involves experiences of inadequacy, suffering or failure. These feelings that arise are experienced by each and every individual on the planet. You are not the only one. Most of us in our lifetimes have never seen a situation like this, and we weren’t equipped with how to deal with it because it was unexpected. Practicing self-compassion simply means that you recognize that these feelings are universal, and nothing to be ashamed about it.
  • Mindfulness vs Overidentification: The definition of self-compassion also includes the concept of balance, which is highlighted in this component. In the presence of negative emotions, one should attempt to approach them in such a way that they are not suppressed nor exaggerated in any way. This means that a willingness is required to observe them in an open manner, with clarity, or in other words the negative emotions are observed with mindful awareness. At the same time, it is suggested that one should should not overly identify with the negative emotion or situation, so that we are not swept away by the negative reactivity.

How can you practice self-compassion?

Practicing self-compassion isn’t something that one can just do overnight. It requires effort and consistency. There will be some days where it’ll be too difficult to continue the self-compassionate behaviours. To make this change easier, there are are few exercises that you can do to build your self-compassion during these uncertain times.

  1. Treat yourself like a friend. Take a negative emotion or thought that you may be experiencing and pretend that it is not you, but a close friend of yours that is experiencing it. How would you judge their behaviour or feelings? What would you say or react? How would you help them deal with it? Write all this down, and once you’re done, reverse the roles. Say all these things or apply these solutions to yourself. This exercise helps us understand that we are the hardest on ourselves.
  2. Take a self-compassion break. If you’re going through a stressful situation, pause for a minute and just declare or announce to yourself, “This is a stressful situation, and I don’t think I’m doing too well mentally.” By announcing this, you’re being mindful of what is going on in the present and how it’s affecting you. Next, remind yourself that what you’re feeling is universal, and that each person goes through this at some point in life. This will help you gain perspective, and also balance the emotions. Lastly, ask yourself what you need to hear from yourself. It could be a pep talk, or it could be just you forgiving yourself for something.
  3. Self-criticism into self-compassion. The first step is to identify whether you use self-criticism of a particular trait of yours, as a motivator. If yes, think about the different way you’re hard on yourself, with the hope that this will lead to self-improvement. Next, once you’ve listed down the different ways you use self-criticism, see if you can change these maladaptive ways into techniques that are more gentle, constructive and kind to yourself. Lastly, catch yourself every time you find yourself passing judgment on that particular trait in everyday situations, and go back to the list you made in the second step. Reframe that judgmental thought on the spot by reframing it into a self-compassionate one.
woman wearing silver-colored ring

Self-compassion is truly the need of the hour, and in the face of all the uncertainty, it is what is going to help us come out through the other side with a great deal of personal growth, resilience and mindful awareness.

Until next time,

Sneha Deolankar

(M.Phil Clinical Psychology Scholar, M.A. Clinical Psychology, PGD Counselling)

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