I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I thought those two words to myself as I looked in the mirror at my complexion. My skin was erupting in acne and it was so red, painful and inflamed I could barely look at myself. And I couldn’t figure out why it was happening.
I’d seen dermatologists, naturopaths, fellow nutritionists and nothing they said or did could help me get to the root of the problem. In fact, many of the treatments I tried actually made my skin worse. Much worse. I even contemplated going back on Accutane for the 3rd time - thankfully a late night call to a dear friend stopped me from filing the prescription!
Needless to say, I was depressed. I was crying every single day out of frustration. I felt immense guilt and shame that I had let my health get this out of my control. And as a nutritionist and seemingly healthy individual, why couldn’t I just figure this out and make it STOP?
Everywhere I looked there were people with perfect, glowing, CLEAR skin. It was the perfect example of observational selection bias at work. You know, the effect of suddenly noticing things we didn't notice much before — but we irrationally assume that the frequency has increased. A perfect example of this is what happens to pregnant women who suddenly notice a lot of other pregnant women around them.
It's not that women with flawless skin were appearing more frequently to me, it's that I’d selected that “item” in my mind, and in turn, was noticing it more often. But unfortunately, each time I would see these women, it would:
- reinforce in my mind how terrible my skin looked
- make me question if I would ever have clear skin again
- remind me that this isn’t normal and should not be happening
And when the feeling of “THIS SHOULD NOT BE HAPPENING” comes up, that’s typically when we begin to feel very lonely and isolated from others. Just like my experience with my acne, typically when people notice something about themselves that they don’t like or if they make a mistake, they irrationally feel as if they are the only ones having this problem. They get tunnel vision and cannot see beyond their own suffering. But this is not a logical process.
The common humanity component of self-compassion invites us to recognize that the human experience is imperfect; that these feelings of disappointment, failure and inadequacy (and even health challenges, in one way or another) are felt by everyone and define what it means to be human. We all suffer. We all struggle. And while the triggers, circumstances and degree of pain is different, the process is the same.
What I’ve learned from self-compassion is that pain is all-inclusive, NOT exclusive. All human beings are infallible. Why else is it so common to hear someone say “You’re only human!” as a means to comfort someone who’s made a mistake?
So the next time you experience a difficulty in your life, try not to take it so personally. Remember that despite how someone may look on the outside, on the inside we are all dealing with difficulties, failings, disappointments and possibly even health challenges. When you travel down the path of common humanity, you begin to feel more connected to others rather than separate, and this makes the pain much easier to bear.
What this means, my darling, is that you are never alone.
What do you do to remind yourself that you are not alone in your struggles and life challenges? And be sure to check back next week for Monday's post on the final aspect of self-compassion: Mindfulness.