The Power Of Self-Compassion: How To Be Kind To Yourself When Dealing With Disappointment

Dealing With Disappointment Through Self-Compassion

“Instead of chastising ourselves, we should practice self-compassion: greater forgiveness of our mistakes, and a deliberate effort to take care of ourselves throughout times of disappointment or embarrassment.” — David Robson

Reflect on a period in your life where you felt discouraged due to disappointment. Notice the physical feelings without getting distracted by the thoughts in your head. It’s fair to say, there isn’t a single person who hasn’t experienced disappointment in their life. It can occur in various situations, such as when we don’t get the job we want, when a relationship ends, or when an event doesn’t turn out the way we had envisioned. Disappointment can be a temporary emotion, or it can linger for an extended period, depending on the significance of the situation and our coping mechanisms. Namely, disappointment is something we experience throughout various stages of our life.

But equally important is self-compassion when dealing with disappointment. For instance, when a child is raised with a critical parent, they may grow up to be self-critical, as well as feel disappointed when things don’t turn out as expected. This is where self-compassion is important because studies by Kristin Neff, a leading researcher in this area, show that self-compassion, not critical self-talk, is the key to dealing with the hurt resulting from disappointment. She writes: “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticising yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, whoever said you were supposed to be perfect?”

She believes perfection is not what we should aim for as individuals. Instead, we ought to recognise we are constantly developing and are bound to make mistakes throughout our life. Therefore, self-compassion means learning to treat ourselves with kindness when we experience difficult emotions, make mistakes, or face difficult life’s challenges. It involves acknowledging our suffering and responding to it with empathy and self-care rather than self-criticism or self-judgment. Is this something you can relate to? Consider how you treat yourself when you make mistakes? Do you criticise or condemn yourself with negative self-talk such as: “I should’ve known better” or “I can’t do anything right.” This type of self-criticism does little to help us deal with the difficulties and complexities of life. In fact, it moves us further away from healing because we are not considering our authentic emotions, but responding in a harsh and critical inner voice.

Components And Benefits Of Self-Compassion

“It is a beautiful experience being with ourselves at a level of complete acceptance. When that begins to happen, when you give up resistance and needing to be perfect, a peace will come over you as you have never known.” — Ruth Fishel

To build self-compassion, three elements must be involved: we must practice self-kindness, recognise how everyone shares the same struggles, and stay conscious in the present moment. Self-kindness means being gentle and understanding with ourselves in the face of our difficulties, rather than harshly judging ourselves. Common humanity involves recognising that suffering and imperfection are a normal part of the human experience, and that we are not alone in our struggles. Mindfulness involves being present and aware of our thoughts and feelings without judgment or over-identification. Kristin Neff reminds us to show ourselves the same care and consideration that we show a good friend: “Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness, concern, and support you’d show to a good friend.”

There are many reasons to focus on self-compassion when we experience disappointment, which include increased resilience, improved general well-being and a reduction in stress and anxiety. We are rewiring our nervous system by practising self-compassion and grooving new neural pathways in the brain. We are training our mind and body to respond differently to disappointment, and are likely to experience improved mental and emotional health. However, practising self-compassion may not come easy to some people, particularly if they have experienced childhood trauma or grown up in dysfunctional households. They may be completely blind to their own flaws and become enraged when someone tries to point them out. It is why the path of healing involves taking one step forward and two steps back until we gain sufficient momentum to overcome our childhood wounds.

Responding To Your Inner Critic With Self-Compassion

“You’ve been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” — Louise Hay

So it begs the question: How can we practise self-compassion if we’ve had a history of being critical of ourselves? First, we must notice our critical inner voice and observe how we talk to ourselves. This is a demonstration of self-compassion because we are being mindful of our inner dialogue instead of responding in haste with a critical inner voice. Second, we ought to acknowledge that disappointment is a normal part of life. We all know the sting of disappointment, but it is how we choose to handle it that shapes our self-image in the future. It is for this reason I was drawn to the principles of IFS therapy because it identifies the Self to be the core or essence of a person. The Self is believed to be the seat of consciousness and encompasses a range of qualities, such as compassion, curiosity, clarity, and calmness. The Self is described as a calm and centred presence that can observe and engage with different parts of ourself without becoming overwhelmed or reactive.

And the good news is, the more we practise mindfulness and self-compassion, the more we inhabit this compassionate, curious, clear, and calm Self. So, if we experience disappointment, we can engage with our feelings through these four filters instead of being overwhelmed with negative emotions. Are you happy with this understanding so far? I’m sure you have questions about how this connects to your situation, and I’ll shortly invite you to complete a basic exercise to figure it out. But for now, it’s important to understand that being kind to ourselves when we experience disappointment is the antidote to self-criticism or self-judgement. Tara Brach, a mindfulness teacher and author, articulates the importance of self-compassion with the words: “When we offer ourselves compassion, we are opening our hearts with the potential to completely transform our lives.”

Considering this, I invite you to reflect on the situation I asked you are about in the opening paragraph. If you keep a journal or diary, take time to reflect on the disappointment you felt in the situation. Dig deeper and ask yourself:

  1. What did you see, hear, or feel that brought on this feeling?
  2. Do you have a memory of your childhood that resonates with this experience?
  3. What lesson is the disappointment trying to impart?
  4. What hidden messages can you uncover in the depths of this feeling of disappointment?

Whilst it may not have been the exact experience, try to get a sense of the emptiness that came with the disappointment from that period of your life. For instance, when I was seven, I asked my father for a bicycle, but I heard the disappointment in his voice as he said no, not believing I would be careful enough with it. I recall experiencing a deep sense of disappointment because of his lack of trust in me. Later in adult life, I remember experiencing a similar feeling when asking my former boss for a pay rise.

Therefore, what is experienced in childhood will be felt throughout our adult life until we investigate, heal, and transform our childhood wounds. We must become familiar with our disappointment, so it no longer causes us to feel embarrassed, guilty, and let down. After all, if we wish to cope with disappointment, we must first learn to be compassionate with ourselves through empathy and loving care. It is only then we can change our response to disappointments in the future.

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