Self-Compassion 3: Common Humanity
Week 1 of our self-compassion series defined self-compassion and listed its three components:
Week 2 discussed Mindfulness as it relates to self-compassion: how it’s impossible to deal with your feelings if you don’t know how you feel.
This week, we'll think more about the element common humanity.
In terms of self-compassion, common humanity helps us understand that we're not alone in our feelings or experiences. Realize that if you're feeling sad or stressed or anxious, chances are someone in the same room or building or neighborhood is also feeling sad or stressed or anxious. We are all unique snowflakes, but we're also all people. People tend to have similar emotions, even if they display them differently. So, if you're finishing up a long week and it’s left you exhausted and depressed, you’re not alone.
I once had an acquaintance who was going through a bad breakup. She said, "No one in the history of the world has ever been this sad before!" And, you know what? She meant it. She was convinced that she was the first person to experience that depth of grief. We can each probably name a dozen situations that are sadder than a break-up, but that's not the point. The point is that she lacked the idea of common humanity. She couldn’t imagine that anyone felt the way she was feeling at that moment: betrayed, abandoned, humiliated. This led to extreme self-pity, which led to the above statement. (But, you know what? It's even normal to feel like you're the only one to feel things a certain way. She was not alone in thinking that she was alone — common humanity is everywhere!)
Feeling alone? So is everyone else.
Employing common humanity helps us to feel less alone, but it also helps us to be less self-absorbed. If you recognize that you are not alone in your pain, then you must also recognize that other people are in pain. Keeping common humanity at the forefront of our minds can make us more compassionate human beings. Catching CNN on the gym TVs all day, everyday leads me to believe that a little more compassion among human beings would be a good thing.
If you're having trouble finding the common humanity in a difficult situation, use your imagination. For example, Dr. Kristin Neff (are you getting familiar with that name yet?) recounts a personal example in her video about common humanity and self-compassion. After her child was diagnosed with autism, she felt alone. She would go to the park and see the interactions of the other kids with their parents, and she’d feel resentful. She caught herself falling into a state of self-pity. Eventually she realized that although not all parents were struggling with autistic children, all parents struggled with their children. It was a key component in being a parent. Neff imagined that other parents had their own struggles and this realization made it easier for her to feel a part of the group “parent” and to feel compassion for other parents as well.
I hope you've been doing your 5-minute body scans and that you keep those up. At the end of your body scans, once you've identified how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally, remind yourself that you're not the only person to feel that way. And when you're walking through the world feeling overwhelmed, or downtrodden, or in despair, remind yourself that you're not the only person to feel that way. Keep reminding yourself until you believe it.
Come back next week for a discussion of self-compassion's third element: self-kindness.
Thanks again to Eduardo Espada for his amazing illustrations!
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