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When Life gives you Lemons

I reckon you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who could confidently claim their life had gone according to plan these past two years, so why do we find it so hard when we encounter those bumps in the road? We know that ‘stuff happens’ but we don’t always use that understanding to help soothe us when things go a little pear-shaped. There’s no denying the pain we experience at moments like this – if it didn’t hurt it would be because it didn’t matter and it does: we were looking forward to the opportunities of that new role, or the validation of a promotion, or maybe we’re suddenly facing loss and disruption when we’d hoped for a period of plain sailing.

It’s tempting to bring down the blinds and withdraw or to rage against the unfairness of it all. Often, our first instinct is self-criticism: ‘what have I done to deserve this?’ But self-compassion offers us a gentler, healthier way to manage life’s inevitable twists and turns.

First, self-compassion encourages us to acknowledge that it hurts – we don’t have to put a brave face on things or tell ourselves it’s not important (who’d believe that anyway?). Instead it gives us a chance to admit that we’re disappointed or feeling let down or frankly floored by what’s just happened to us. But rather than letting us drift towards the spiral of self-doubt that often follows, self-compassion invites us to swap these negative emotions for positive feelings of care and reassurance, giving ourselves the kindness our best friend would be dishing out right now if they were here with us.

Not only does that mean we trade painful feelings for affirming and comforting ones, we also avoid the self-pity trap, because self-compassion reminds us that just like everyone else we have our Instagram days and our mute-the-mic days. It might seem counterintuitive but telling ourselves we’re not alone gives our brains an extra hug that helps us summon the strength to get through the tough times. And that builds our resilience.

Ironically, owning up to how we feel rather than trying to keep a lid on it can help stop us from exaggerating its impact, too. If we can see that, just like every other person on the planet, in life we’re bound to face disappointment and frustration, then we don’t have to judge ourselves for the outcome or try to find a cause of ‘failure’ within ourselves. Finding that balance, where we say, ‘Yep, I’m hurting now because I really wanted that relationship, that interview, that pitch to work out but it’s okay, it’s just how life is sometimes,’ means we can get on with the business of taking care of ourselves in the moment until we’re ready to head out on the road again, bumps and all.

If you found this helpful, check out Dr Kristin Neff’s comprehensive online resource:

Originally written for The Hustle House, November 2021

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