It’s a given that the stories of people with trauma are tragic. It’s how we deal with those tragedies that decide on how successfully we can overcome them. One aspect of that success depends on compassion, specifically compassion toward ourselves. This is different from self-pity, which indulges in despair and renders us even more helpless. Self-pity is a negative emotion, and it creates feelings of victimhood. Walking around, saying to yourself, “Of course this happened—bad things always happen to me” is harmful because it causes you to believe that there’s some terrible curse that’s been put on you and that nothing that you do can make it go away.
Curses belong in fairy tales, not real life. If you truly convince yourself that those bad things only happen to you, you will end up taking everything personally, including a rainy day or missing the bus (you were genuinely late for). This sort of thinking renders you feeling that you are not in control of everything and that fate is something that you were born with, and you can’t change it. Both failures and successes are not dependent on you, and you can’t take any blame or credit.
Those are some of the dangers of self-pity, which is not to be confused with self-compassion. How can you tell them apart? Self-pity usually relies on absolutes, so words like “never,” “always,” “forever,” and so on. Big, dramatic words that are used negatively to describe events in your life. Self-compassion is more quiet, reasonable. It means acknowledging that something terrible has happened and that your reaction to it was warranted. It doesn’t mean excusing questionable behavior that might have occurred because of a trigger. Still, it means understanding that you’re vulnerable and human and that you’re doing the best you can. For many of us, compassion is something that we have no problem affording others, yet when it comes to ourselves, we shy away from it and dismiss our feelings.
It’s perfectly okay to feel sorry for yourself, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Feeling sorry for yourself and loving yourself the way you love a child is not a weakness. We tend to believe that those of us who share their vulnerabilities or admit to feeling sad for something that happened to them is a behavior confined to the walls of a therapist’s office or support group. On the contrary—sharing your sorrow with people you trust (or in some instances with strangers) can be a powerful act, and it helps to reduce some of the burdens of having to carry it. Being able to find understanding and love toward yourself is a mark of growth. It allows us to navigate the world around us much more effectively than if we were to dismiss our traumas or minimize them. I believe that it’s self-compassion that ultimately opens the door to acceptance, which further allows us to move on and evolve from the place that keeps us stuck.
Finally, in these difficult times, it’s imperative to be able to forgive ourselves and generally be easier on ourselves. What we’re going through is possibly a collective trauma, so being gentle toward each other and ourselves will help us heal. It will help us get a perspective on what’s happening in the present time. And we will be able to acknowledge that it is perfectly okay to mourn the past as we look forward to a better future.
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