We swerved and nearly skidded off the road, but luckily we didn’t hit the tortoise. The car in front of us had also managed to avoid squashing him, or her. We were relieved that the tortoise was safe. But we were scared again when we saw a truck coming along in our rear view mirror. We didn’t think the slow tortoise would make it across the road before the heavy truck came speeding on top of him.
Suddenly I cried, big heavy tears, I was sobbing. I said to Michael “it’s not fair that the tortoise has to cross that big road, it’s not fair”. I felt so sad for the trouble he had to go through, just to get through his day. He had to risk his life to get to the next piece of grass. And all because humans need roads and progress. We were driving through his home. I cried a little more before realising I was also crying for myself. I was tired. I had recently had an operation, had travelled by road across South Africa and was on my way to the airport for a long haul flight to Ireland. I was physically exhausted and emotionally raw. To be honest I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. My words “it’s not fair” fit equally for the tortoise as they did for me.
I immediately felt guilty for being self indulgent and self pitying. But then I wondered why can’t we have a little compassion for ourselves every now and again? Why can’t we feel sorry for ourselves? I think the culture of resilience and self reliance and this idea that we cannot be self pitying has stopped us from self caring and from having respect for our hardships and hiccups. We all struggle so much and have so many personal journeys that are truly hard. I think we need to stop sometimes and shed a tear for ourselves – have a little compassion for ourselves…cry for yourself
There is increasing evidence on the value of having compassion for yourself. The work of Paul Gilbert on Compassion Focused Therapy is an interesting read for anyone interested in having a thought for themselves. Gilbert (2009, pp. 205-206 Introducing Compassion Focused Therapy) defines compassion in the following way:
“From a social psychology and Buddhist tradition, Neff (2003a,b) sees compassion as consisting of three bipolar constructs related to kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. Kindness involves understanding one’s difficulties and being kind and warm in the face of failure or set-backs rather than harshly judgemental and self-critical. Common humanity involves seeing one’s experiences as part of the human condition rather than as personal, isolating and shaming; mindful acceptance involves mindful awareness and acceptance of painful thoughts and feelings rather than trying to force them away or deny them.”