With coronavirus sweeping the world, many of us have been thrown into spending considerable time by ourselves unexpectedly. It is a widely accepted idea that humans are social creatures and, as a result, even simple actions, such as hugging a friend or smiling at a strange, are enough stimuli for our social time. For some of us socialising is even an escape from ourselves and what’s going on internally. In a time of isolation, the biggest relationship that is tested can be the one with ourselves.
So, what happens when we are forced to spend time with ourselves and our greatest critic is forced to become our new best friend?
Self- compassion is something that is not often talked about, even less so in politics. Only in times of crisis like the coronavirus do we talk about altruism and compassion to each other. It is even in rarer in politics is to talk about kindness to ourselves.
When we stop to actually listen to our own mental health can be an incredibly terrifying experience. No longer can our personal criticisms be silenced by the loud noises of society rushing through the day. Capitalism gets stripped away like a band-aid and you end up with a weeping wound. Learning to be self-compassionate is a skill and requires a sense of mindfulness. Maybe this time we spend by ourselves we can learn how to treat ourselves with kindness again.
What is self-compassion?
Well, it’s a healthy attitude to ourselves. One paper written by Kristin Neff in 2010 describes self-compassion as three things; kindness towards oneself, and acceptance of a shared experience with humanity and, lastly, mindfulness which is looking at painful thoughts with a balanced awareness.
We have already seen a flourishing of community compassion and altruism with organised groups providing much needed resources to those who are more vulnerable. Through government regulation, there has been forced altruism to stop people from taking risks that could lead to infections of others. In the vacuum where capitalism used to sit and no longer can operate at full capacity, a startling awareness is begging to emerge. The countless Facebook posts complaining about how selfish people are. The realisation of who key workers are and how those who get paid hundreds of thousands for managing are not risking their lives in a crisis such as now.
The social mobility which capitalism has offered us only takes us so far. The voice of meaningful connection becomes lost in a throwaway society whose values are underpinned by the idea of competition. Has the coronavirus burst the bubble of capitalism and how long will this last? Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already fallen to using socialist tools to alleviate the financial suffering of the population such as paying 80% of wages of the self-employed. However, something that may be a lot harder to see is the socialist ethos of shared experience in the collective. This shared experience values individuals as a community instead of in individualism in which places value on competition.
There is definitely a benefit to some level of individualism as far as celebrating a uniqueness to every individual as part of a community. Yet, the community itself must not become lost in doing so.
The argument is not that capitalism does not foster any kind of empathy but rather a cold empathy. One that in understanding another experience allows us to increase social mobility. It is no secret that the younger generations of society are suffering a major mental health crisis. The overlap between that and the encroachment of neoliberal capitalism has not gone unnoticed. When an individual is encouraged to over-promote their skills, regardless of loss to others, a system is created of winners and losers.
An interesting term coined by Bibb Latané, in which individuals put more effort when they work by themselves than in groups in order to showcase their talents better. Effectively this leaves an empathy deficit in which individuals will help others in a way that showcases their empathy by helping one individual which is seen by many rather than attempting to dismantle an establishment which negatively affects the individual. Capitalism demeans the pro-social responsibility and we have seen this in the coronavirus crisis with western countries, such as the U.S.
How does this relate to self-compassion? Simple. How we relate to those around us is also the way we relate to ourselves internally. If warm empathy is fostered by a society towards others it also becomes self-empathy. If you see yourself as part of a collective in which all groups are valued, then you, as an individual of that collective, must be of equal value too.
So, take this time to care for yourself in the knowledge that caring for yourself is the same as collectively caring as a whole for society. Self-compassion is very different from self-esteem where narcissistic behaviours can manifest through comparison between yourself and others. Such as in a wholly capitalist system.
Let’s really foster some self-compassion and hopefully, society will come out of this crisis just a little bit kinder than we went in. Look out for my next article which will be giving some tips on how to foster self-compassion in isolation.