Balancing Self-Improvement with Self-Compassion


In our mind we tend to categorize things, including aspects of our self.

We label our various traits as good, bad, strong weak, lovable, or unlovable, and spend much energy trying to ditch the bad, weak, and unlovable aspects. It is tempting to think that by losing our undesirable qualities problems of depression or anxiety will disappear as well.

While symptoms of depression and anxiety can be immobilizing and need to be addressed, it is just as necessary to remind our self that we cannot be separated into neat and distinct piles of qualities that can be kept or tossed.

Our fears and our sensitivities are woven together. Anger and persistence are close cousins. A mean streak can be a branch of insecurity rooted in a desire to be loved. Insight loves idleness, but too much idleness dulls insight. A realistic awareness of the world’s suffering is a stone’s throw from both courage and hopelessness.

The Buddhist nun Pema Chodren who knows of depression first hand, is wonderful at communicating this concept. She writes,

Our wisdom is all mixed up with what we call our neurosis. Our brilliance, our juiciness, our spiciness, is all mixed up with our craziness and our confusion, and therefore it doesn’t do any good to try to get rid of our so-called negative aspects, because in that process we also get rid of our basic wonderfulness. We can lead our life so as to become more awake to who we are and what we’re doing rather than trying to improve or change or get rid of who we are or what we’re doing. The key is to wake up, to become more alert, more inquisitive and curious about ourselves.

We can enhance our communication skills, emotional intelligence, habits of thought, and action. This makes us more effective players at the game of life. Being more effective takes the pressure off our neurosis - our mental vulnerabilities and distress - but we remain a mix of juiciness and craziness, spiciness and confusion—it is the human condition.

Acknowledging that this human condition is within us is called self-acceptance. Having self-acceptance with an attitude of curiosity helps us live compassionately with the mishmash of dark and light aspects we call our self.

Photo credit: Brandon Satterwhite


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