From skinned knees to self-compassion

This weekend I ended a beautiful walk by falling over and skinning my knee. In my defense, the dog got super-excited at a scent and pulled me when I wasn’t expecting it! But that doesn’t change the fact that one of my knees is a right mess and now wears a huge dressing. Very glamorous!

Very quickly my habitual responses kicked in. I was embarrassed that other people had seen me fall over. I was annoyed that – at the grand old age of 49 – I can be so clumsy. And I didn’t hesitate to tell myself how stupid I thought I was:

“I can’t believe you’re still so clumsy – what are you, a 5-year-old?”

“You look so unprofessional with a huge white dressing on your knees”

“Oh well done! Now you’re going to have a scar on your knee for months.”

Not very kind, was I? If my best friend or husband had fallen over, I wouldn’t have said anything like that. I would have been compassionate and consolatory. Not angry and accusatory.

We can judge ourselves negatively and mercilessly about many things, including our tinnitus. We might experience self-critical emotions such as embarrassment, shame, guilt. And we might have self-critical thoughts such as “why me?” “I’m no fun anymore” “I’m weak – I can’t cope when others can.”

If you have any of these thoughts or feelings let me tell you they are not kind, and not true.

Our self-critical voice creates internal conflict, for example, because it tells us we’re not good enough. It emphasizes the gap between who we think we are and who we think we are supposed to be. This can result in negative emotions, such as guilt (because we’re not good enough) or fear (that we might never be good enough). Thanks to this critical voice, we can easily lose ourselves in a never-ending destructive cycle of emotions and thoughts.

So how do we counteract this self-critical voice? With mindful self-compassion.

We use mindfulness to become aware that our self-critical voice is belittling us and trying to destroy our self-confidence. And then we choose to replace it with self-compassion.

Self-compassion means showing the same compassion towards ourselves that we show to others. When we are self-compassionate, we treat ourselves with kindness and gentleness.

Self-compassion can help us to look at things that happen with a more positive perspective. Our critical voice may say, “How could you have allowed yourself to get tinnitus? Why didn’t you wear ear protection” or “You’re weak – look you’re still struggling with tinnitus when other people have accepted it”. Our compassionate voice is kind, caring, and accepts things as they are, wishing only that there would be no suffering. It says, “What happened, has happened. You are human, just like everyone else.”

Self-compassion is also a form of acceptance. It recognizes how very hard it can feel to live with tinnitus, and how well we are doing in managing it as we are, moment by moment.

Practice finding your compassionate voice

Grab a pen and paper right now and list ten things about yourself that you really like or appreciate. The qualities you list don’t have to be ones you display all the time. If you feel a bit embarrassed or shy about doing this, remind yourself that you are not claiming you’re better than anyone else, nor that you’re perfect. You’re simply noting good qualities that you sometimes display. Once you have listed 10, acknowledge and enjoy the positive qualities you have, lingering over them and appreciating them.