As I’m counseling clients virtually during this pandemic, one of the common phrases I hear is, “Others have it much worse.” There’s a lot of discounted grief and pain. There’s a certain guilt or shame associated around pain as well as a rating or level of measurement as to how bad something is. We try and justify that if our pain isn’t a ‘10’ or there is someone ‘worse off’, then we shouldn’t suffer or even say we’re hurting or that it doesn’t even matter at all.
Last week, I had a rather unfortunate encounter with my garage step. I missed it, stubbing my big toe which caused the proximal phalanges (or bottom bone) to fracture. Immediately I knew it was broken on impact. I couldn’t put weight on it or bend it. Beautiful arrays of purple and blue began forming on the top and bottom of my toe along with impressive swelling. I got an icepack and attempted to reason with the throbbing pain, bargaining even. It was quite pitiful. Questions started swirling in my head of how I would run outside with my 4-year-old, keep up with her on her bike, help her in the midst of her ‘not normal’ time being away from preschool and her friends. As I was waiting for x-rays in urgent care where my non-medical assessment would indeed confirm the break, I joined the familiar words of others, “There are people dying due to this virus. It’s just a toe. Get over it.” The other voice said, “Yes, you’re right. People are dying and alone while others are very, very sick, but you’re hurting, and you matter too.”
In this moment, in this statement, self-compassion began to emerge. I’m learning more and more to accept self-compassion even though giving compassion can be easier at times. Kristen Neff wrote, “Self-compassion doesn’t mean that I think my problems are more important than yours, it just means I think that my problems are also important and worthy of being attended to.” This is the heart of my therapeutic approach. That my client’s pain, hurt, and grief are seen not based on any grandiose measurement scale, but because they are important and worthy human beings who matter. How much better would we be if we practiced self-compassion! It’s difficult for those who were told growing up that their pain didn’t matter, that the world didn’t care about their tears, or felt insignificant.
You matter. You are treasured and are valued. You are worthy of compassion. If you struggle with self-compassion, I encourage you to reach out to a trained therapist and begin exploring what it means to have self-compassion and belief in your worth.
Kristen Neff, Ph.D. is the author of “The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself: Self-Compassion.