The next step of self-compassion is a deepened awareness of your common humanity. In the context of suffering, this means recognizing that your suffering is not yours alone. For instance, if you write a novel and it doesn’t receive the rave reviews you were hoping for, it’s tempting to feel isolated in your feelings of shame. You might convince yourself that you’re the worst writer in the world, and no one else has ever written a book as terrible as yours.
However, this isolation is an illusion. Every author has their moments of mediocrity; no artist sits down at their desk and produces a masterpiece in one try. Your feelings of shame and inadequacy are extremely common, so you don’t have to assume that your poor performance is somehow unique to you. Everyone falls short, everyone makes mistakes, and everyone feels shame.
Recognizing this truth can help you have a healthier perspective on your life. Instead of assuming that you’re a uniquely terrible person, you can see that other people are equally fallible. This is the recognition of shared humanity. This perspective is especially useful because it helps you adjust your unrealistic expectations for your life. Most people get trapped in the belief that life is supposed to go a certain way.
When you experience a lay-off at work or your marriage disintegrates, you might assume these unwanted events are proof that your life is all wrong. You might want to run to therapy or the bar so that you can do something about your problematic feelings of sadness and shame. Or you might assume that you need to throw yourself into a job search or counseling to get your life back on track.
However, your life is not a collection of problems that need to be fixed. The fact that you experience shame or disappointment doesn’t mean the way you live your life is somehow wrong; rather, these emotions are the normal terrain of human existence. Layoffs and marital troubles aren’t signs that your life is going in the wrong direction. They’re just normal events.
It’s OK to feel sad about them, but you don’t need to assume that your feelings of grief and shame need to be remedied immediately. Instead, you can just accept them as the normal consequences of normal events. This doesn’t mean that you never seek another job or don’t work to resuscitate your marriage, but it does mean that you should resist the urge to see these challenges as proof of your inadequacy. These hurdles make you normal, not uniquely terrible.
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