Me, Myself and Her
By Stephanie Levin (she/her), LCMHCA, NCC
If I tell you that I recently went through a breakup, I feel insecure, pitiful. If I’m being particularly unkind, I may call myself unlovable. I might even create a narrative about all the relationships I’ve had that have ended and turn it into a story about my own failings.
You’ve probably gone down this path of negativity yourself at some point.
If Kristen Neff, research psychologist, were reading this, she’d encourage me to reach for kindness, to comfort myself. She describes self-compassion as simply the process of turning compassion inward. We are kind and understanding rather than harshly self-critical when we fail, make mistakes or feel inadequate. We give ourselves support and encouragement rather than being cold and judgmental when challenges and difficulty arise in our lives.
Neff posits that there are three main components of self-compassion: mindfulness, common humanity, and kindness. First, bring awareness to the struggle you’re experiencing; you can’t respond to a struggle if you ignore that you’re struggling. Second, remember that to be human is to struggle, and allow yourself to feel connected to the human experience by your hardship. And lastly, respond to your own struggle with kindness.
Easier said than done, though. If I’m gentle with myself, I’ve often thought, how will I learn to improve? One piece of advice Neff offers is to talk to yourself as though you’re talking to someone else–someone you care about deeply, who is going through exactly what you’re experiencing. I don’t know why it’s often easier to be kind to others than it is to be kind to oneself, but it seems to be true. Here’s what that looks like for me:
I tell the story of whatever I’m going through, (aloud if I’m alone), but I shift the perspective. Instead of saying I started noticing my partner’s distance about a month ago, I tell it in third person point of view: She started noticing her partner’s distance about a month ago.
By stating my situation aloud, I bring awareness to the struggle. By referring to an other–she–I also experience the second component of self-compassion, common humanity. Just by hearing of someone else going through what I’m going through (even if she is me), I feel less alone. I’m reminded that there are multitudes of she’s/he’s/they’s out there in the world, dealing with heartbreak, and I feel connected.
When she is the one who’s been dumped, I have no problem coming up with kind things to say to her: Better that you find out now who this person really is; or You did the best you could to make it work.
So when you find yourself struggling, try taking a step to the side and state your struggle in third person point of view. By doing this, you might find it creates a space between you and the struggle, and in that space, compassion may grow.
For more about Neff’s research on self-compassion, see https://self-compassion.org/.
If compassion interests you, consider participating in The Compassion Project (https://www.threeoaksbehavioralhealth.com/services/the-compassion-project/)