Discharge & Aftercare Coordinator
In recent years, the self-help industry-favorite term “self-esteem” is slowly being replaced. We’ve spent decades working on self-esteem, trying to get kids to develop self-esteem, etc, and we haven’t made much progress. So now the dialogue is shifting to the idea of “self-compassion.” You don’t necessarily need to think that you are a super special snowflake to like yourself; you just need to be kind to yourself.
Dr. Kristin Neff, a human development and psychology researcher, looked into this. She found that there are three essential components to self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. If you want to check out your own self-compassion health, she has a great self-test on her website: http://self-compassion.org/self-compassion-scales-for-researchers/. For me, at least, taking the test was a great opportunity to practice self-kindness…since I immediately started judging how bad my self-compassion was. Awareness is the first step, right?
So, let’s talk about an area where humans are REALLY GOOD at judging themselves: our bodies. There are good reasons for that. We live in a culture that supports a $54.89 billion (with a “B”!) cosmetic industry and a $60.5 billion weight loss industry. The functions of those industries are to convince us that we are fat and ugly, and that since we’re so fat and ugly, we are therefore worthless and unsuccessful in life. No wonder we’re stressed.
The main goal of those industries are to suggest to us that our appearance is something that we can control, if we just try hard enough, and that our outer selves are the ultimate reflection of our inner selves. But that’s where the logic falls apart. If that worked, we’d all look like Victoria’s Secret models all the time. And we clearly don’t.
This is where Neff’s concept of “common humanity” comes into play. The fact is none of us get to choose our bodies. We don’t get to trade them out for the newest model when it comes on the market. We are all born in our bodies, live in them, and die in them. We just get one. (In this life, at least. Maybe your spiritual tradition includes other lives, but we’ll stick to this one for now.) It’s a universal truth. Every person that you meet is in the body they’re in. We’re all participants in the body lottery.
I’m pretty comfortable in my body. I’m grateful for it, and some days, I even love it. That doesn’t mean that if someone handed me a catalog of bodies to choose from, this the one I’d choose. In fact, it probably wouldn’t make the top ten. But, guess what: Nobody ever handed me a catalog. It’s a moot point. My choice, my only choice, is this: I can either accept and care for the body that I have, or not.
And that’s true for all of us. We are all stuck in the bodies we get. Naturally beautiful people didn’t get their bodies by rescuing orphan baby bunnies all day. I didn’t get my body’s flaws by being a terrible human being. It’s not a reflection of value or merit or anything else. It just is what it is.
When I remember that my body is just a vehicle for my soul, or myself, or however you want to say it, and that it’s the only vehicle I’m ever going to get (until we can download ourselves into robots, obviously, which will be awesome), I’m a lot more gentle with it. I treat it a little more kindly, and I judge it a little bit less. When I remember that everyone’s body is a vehicle for their souls, and the only one they are going to get, I respond with less jealousy or judgment. I’m a little nicer to them, and a little more willing to see them for who they really are.