Finding Self-Compassion Through The Mirror of Discontent

Finding self-compassion through the mirror of discontent

self-compassion through the mirror of discontent

As an American living abroad during last year’s presidential election, I couldn’t help but feel frustration with the state of things back home.

To say things appear to be toxic and divisive would be an understatement.

It seems like everywhere you turn, people are at odds with each other about everything.

“You lost, get over it.”

“Things are going to change, get over it.”

Before I became a coach, I used to be one of those folks who walked around thinking, “just get over it.”

However, these days it is my belief, and the belief of many great scholars, thinkers, and leaders before me that love and compassion are necessities for living an honest and substantial life.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about the importance of seeing past the not-that-big-of-a-deal in everything and recognize that my privilege has a better use; for building up the people what have less privilege than myself, who need it most.

And the truth is; I couldn’t do this without being more loving and compassionate to myself.

Self-compassion is something with which the majority of us struggle.

It’s much easier to beat ourselves up about our perceived failures or prop ourselves up for our perceived strengths while comparing ourselves to the failures and strengths of the other people than it is, to be honest with ourselves.

When we evaluate ourselves so critically, it doesn’t just stay with us.

When we are critical of ourselves, we tend to be less kind to others in turn.  I’ve worked with clients who pick apart other people’s lifestyles, partners, and appearances simply because of how they feel about their own.

And we all have done this, and it is not helpful, because as the saying goes, “What Sally says about Jane says more about Sally than it does about Jane.”

In other words,  we only end up burning ourselves by thinking and saying cruel and overly critical things.

It is not entirely our fault.  Sometimes, our human default setting is not to reassure ourselves we’ve done the best we can.

Sometimes, our default setting is to scrutinize others as harshly as we would ourselves.

When I say the “mirror of discontent” I mean that everything we look to as a source of providing us with feedback about ourselves.

finding-self-compassion-through-the-mirror-of-discontent

I see this especially on social media over and over again.  And I’ve fallen victim to it myself.  Say you’re having a bad day and are frustrated with your life, all it takes is a scroll through Instagram or Facebook to watch the highlight reels of other people’s lives to set us off into critical mode.

But you know what?  Most of what you see on people’s social media accounts is (at least) slightly fictional.  I have worked with individuals who show how great their relationship or career is online and then tell me things are hanging by a thread in real life.

Our perception of other people’s lives doesn’t obligate us to beat ourselves up for not having the same story as they do any more than it does to judge them for living differently than us.

And truthfully, most people are not very transparent about their true selves, and it keeps them from being able to show their vulnerability.  If you’re as big of a fan of Brene Brown as I am, then you know what the cost of hiding shame and vulnerability is.

Success is not having an expensive car, high paying job, significant other, or  1% body fat.

Failure is not the absence of those things either.

Success and failure are just feedback, and they are what make us more resilient.

In fact, your resilience is far greater than you give yourself credit.  Just stop and think about all of the things you’ve been through in your life – hell, this month alone.  I assure you that you have picked yourself up and dusted off more times than you even realise.

But what if you could be more aware of your resilience?  What if you could comfort and console yourself along the way?

Being kind to yourself, when you need it most, is a necessity, in fact, it is part of what being human is.

As Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the world of self-compassion states: there are three main components to self-compassion — self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.  It is part of the human experience to feel vulnerable and to experience failure or disappointment, but what we don’t need when this happens is to be our worst enemy.  It is our moral imperative to build a healthy self-support system and realise that we all feel discontent and we all struggle.

Self-compassion will enable us to be less critical of ourselves and others and further develop our resilient spirit.

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How To Identify Toxic Relationships And Attract Healthier Connections

How To Identify Toxic Relationships And Develop Healthy Connections

You know that saying, “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are?”  I used to think that was such a bs thing to say.

Do you want to know why?

For years, I surrounded myself with some very toxic people.

I know how it feels to be on both sides of this issue and, frankly, neither situation is healthy.

This post is going to help you determine if the people you surround yourself with are toxic or uplifting, and how these different types of folks impact your overall happiness.

Identifying a “toxic acquaintance”

First, a toxic relationship doesn’t have to be with somebody who necessarily pushes you to do unhealthy things.  A toxic acquaintance isn’t an entirely toxic person either; it’s their toxic behavior that can be detrimental to your personal growth.

It isn’t easy to determine whether or not an acquaintance is toxic.

For example, I had a toxic boyfriend for nearly two years before I started to realize (with the help of a great psychologist) just how toxic his behavior actually was.

It was nearly another 18 months before I finally broke off all communication with him, moved out, and moved on.

Take a moment now and think about the people you surround yourself with — even family members.

Think about your relationships objectively for the time being.

Is there a person in your life whom you’ve started to dread being around? Or an individual who makes you feel completely drained after you spend time with them?

If either of these sound familiar, it is possible that you’ve got ties to a toxic acquaintance (or relative).

If any of this sounds familiar, it is possible that you’ve got ties to a toxic acquaintance (or relative).

Five traits of “toxic acquaintances.”

  1. They have distinct narcissistic tendencies.  Not sure what I mean by this?  Do they talk more than they listen?  Does everything have to center around them?  Do they interrupt you?  One up you?  Belittle your problems?  If a person in your life is doing this, they are struggling with narcissistic tendencies.
  2. You are directly affected by their drama and behavior.   Toxic people tend to live from crisis to crisis.  There is always something happening to them, and when there isn’t something there, they’ll create it.  When you’re friends with a toxic person, you are expected to nurse their wounds and listen to their carrying on.  Often a solution is offered, and often it will be responded to by a direct refusal of even considering your advice.  Toxic people are full-time victims and view themselves as never at fault for what’s happening in their life.  As such, they are not responsible for trying to make their situation better.  If this sounds like somebody you know, you’re sadly fighting a losing battle.  Until that person acknowledges their victim mentality and narcissistic ways, they will continue to refute any and all of your advice.
  3. They lack empathy and support for others.  Toxic people, though they seem to bounce from crisis to crisis, will find other people’s problems trivial at times.  They will use their experiences as a reference point for the circumstances of others around them.  Not sure what I mean?  Take the following, for example, “I don’t know why she’s complaining about, it’s not as if she was with him as long as I was with my ex.”   For a toxic individual, they cannot separate their experiences (and outcomes) from the experiences of those around them.
  4. They are controlling.   A toxic person is not only controlling in the sense that they want you to be available whenever they need you or they question your loyalty to them.  When you’re with this person, you can’t think for yourself or challenge their opinions without automatically having them discount your opinion or belittle it as being “silly” or “ignorant.”  All of this happens without any consideration of your point of view.  Are they overly critical of you and yet, fail to be able to accept any constructive criticism you have offered them?  Any aspect of an attempt to control the relationship is a sign of narcissistic and toxic behavior.
  5. You’re exhausted after being around them.  Healthy relationships require a certain amount of giving and taking.  Toxic acquaintances tend to be takers and exhibit little give.  If somebody in your life leaves you feeling drained, after you’ve been in their company, ask yourself when the last time was that person asked you how you are feeling.  If you can’t think of one, it’s time to consider the possibility that this person might be toxic for you.

How To Handle Toxic Relationships

If you’re like me, you like to see the good in people before you accept other people’s “warnings” about them.

Over the years, I’ve had people come up to me in a public place and ask me, “why are you friends with ______?”  I would be put off by this, naturally.

There’s nothing wrong with being a compassionate and accepting person — those are terrific qualities. Unfortunately, toxic people (consciously or otherwise) prey on folks with those qualities.

About the ex-boyfriend I mentioned previously, I went on to discover over the ten years before our relationship that he had left relationships with previous partners either on medication or in therapy as a result of his mental abuse.

Unfortunately, some people are master manipulators, and it can take months (even years) for their reign of control over you to show itself.

If you feel that any of the five descriptions I’ve provided are present in any of your current relationships, you don’t have to scrap the relationship just yet.  There is still some hope.

Three steps you can make to try and mend a “toxic relationship”*

  1. Be honest with them about how you’re feeling.  This one is a bitter pill to swallow for most people with toxic behavior issues since they rarely accept responsibility for their role in anything.  However, as an enlightened person with toxic behavior issues, if it weren’t for the people who cared enough to call me out on how my behavior was affecting them, I wouldn’t have been able to change my ways.  The bottom line is:  If they aren’t willing to take your feelings into consideration or make you feel bad about trying to have a rational conversation, you’re better off with them out of your life.  Wish them well, send them love, but move on for your sake.
  2. Use ‘I-statements’.   While studying interpersonal communication, I took a class that centered around conflict resolution.  One of the most memorable things I learned during this course, was the importance of using  ‘I-statements’ when confronting others regarding their behavior.  I-statements are an assertion about the feelings and emotions of the person speaking.  They let the person listening know that this information is about the speaker.  An example of an I-statement would be, “when you tell me I’m oversensitive, I feel belittled.”  In that case, the speaker is owning the feeling of being belittled rather than blaming that feeling on the recipient by saying, “when you tell me I’m oversensitive, you make me feel belittled.”   If taking ownership of your feelings and using I-statements while you attempt to salvage this relationship isn’t given the appropriate consideration then, again, you’re better off without this person.
  3. Seek the help of a professional.  I only advise this personally if the relationship is worth saving.  If you absolutely must try everything to help the toxic person see where you’re coming from in an attempt to save your relationship (this is mostly for spouses and relatives) I would advise seeking out a mental health or personal development professional to see it through. It does require that both parties enter the situation with an open mind and willingness to work things out.  If this approach doesn’t work, this relationship (and individual) are most likely beyond repair.  Protect yourself and wellbeing and move forward.

* I must stress:  If you feel threatened or in danger, never attempt to handle the situation on your own.  

How to attract healthier connections

Now let’s discuss acquaintances and friends who lift us up and make us feel inspired to be the very best version of ourselves we can be.

These are the people we can go to when we’re down, inspired, angry, frustrated, and anything in-between.

It can be difficult as an adult to befriend these types of people, but it’s not impossible.

Five traits of positive people (they’re not always obvious)

  1. They are kind to others.  They don’t have to like everybody they come in contact with, but regardless of their personal feelings, they are always kind and considerate to others. An admirable quality.  If you’re somebody who struggles with separating connection and kindness, this is a type of person you need more of in your life.
  2. They make friends with other people with ease.  As we get older, it becomes more challenging to develop (and maintain) genuine friendships.  When I connect with new people, I often find myself (and the other person) saying, “I feel like I’ve known you for years.”  Discovering people you can connect to in ways that feel unforced and comfortable is an amazing thing.  We all need more people like this in our lives, right?
  3. They are present and listen to others with intention.  Have you ever been out with a friend and realized they’re attached at the hip to their phone?  I mean, we’re all guilty of expecting a call or text that may overlap with a coffee date or get-together, but there’s nothing worse than being with another person who isn’t fully engaged in your quality time together.  Whenever possible, I try to turn my phone off while I’m with others or leave it in my bag.  If I am waiting for a text or call (which, living in a different country than my friends and family is often for me), I will let the person I am with know, “if I’m checking my phone it’s because I’m expecting a text from a family member, I will keep it as brief as possible.”
  4. They don’t take you (or your time) for granted.  Okay, there’s always going to be unexpected things that happen in life, and occasionally plans may have to be broken or rescheduled.  It happens to the best of us.  However, if it’s continuous, that’s another story.  Positive people and acquaintances will not take you or your time for granted.  They will appreciate the time you’re both making to maintain and evolve the relationship.
  5. They encourage you to take (calculated) risks.  We all need to break up with our comfort zone occasionally.  So, it’s best to surround ourselves with people who give us that positive nudge we need to take a plunge into something new.  Not every idea you ever have will be one that a positive thinking friend will back 100%, but you can be sure they will have your best interest at heart when they share their two cents.

That’s a stark contrast, isn’t it?  Some of this information may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many people spend years surrounding themselves with people who don’t encourage them without recognizing it.

When you spend any length of time with people, you can tend to not pick up on how the relationship is evolving — or going nowhere.

Being able to see the other side of something gives you a different perspective than you could ever have if you had never challenged it.

Sadly, not all connections we make with others in life meet our (or possibly theirs) needs.  When this happens, it’s best to save what you can and walk away from what you can’t.

Free your life up for those who will support and encourage you.

Can you think of a time you were in a toxic relationship?  Do you consider yourself to be a positive person in your relationships?  Have you ever experienced toxic behavior in yourself?

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