Archive for Compassion

Dealing with loneliness

Loneliness is a condition that affects most of us at some point in our lives. Some of us feel it daily, some of us sporadically, and some of us just in those difficult times. Regardless of how often it occurs, it does not have to be this way. There is no underlying aspect of human nature that makes loneliness inevitable. The total banishment of loneliness from our lives is quite achievable for all of us. All that is required is a good understanding of its causes, and some basic techniques to remedy it.

Loneliness results from a sense of lack. Usually, we make the mistake of believing that some specific condition is necessary to relieve it. Thus we have thoughts such as “I am lonely because I do not have friends”, “I am lonely because so-and-so doesn’t like me”, or “I am lonely because my husband doesn’t spend enough time with me”. The more that we focus on the perceived cause of our loneliness, the more that we amplify this sense of lack. For example, if we constantly focus on the fact that we do not have a partner, then we are constantly telling ourselves that something is missing. In this way, the loneliness is escalated. We make it seems like a bigger deal than it really is (see Don’t be afraid of loneliness).

Therefore, to combat loneliness we must remove this sense of lack. The simplest way to do this is to become aware of all of the other special relationships in our lives. By seeing all the different opportunities for closeness that are available, we fight the idea that one specific condition or person is required. We are also removing the sense of lack by focusing on all the closeness that we do have with people, and not on whatever is missing. This leads to a happier and more fulfilling life.

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Why we should not obsess over perfection

An obsession with perfection can destroy our lives. It leaves us unable to accept our own mistakes, unable to accept other people’s mistakes, and unable to accept those unfortunate events that happen in life. Richard Carlson discusses “making peace with imperfection” in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. This is extremely useful advice to prevent us from amplifying a small mistake. There is a common and vicious cycle in life: It begins when we do or say something wrong, and then instead of simply acknowledging the mistake and moving on, we enter a state of excessive guilt and despair. We berate ourselves at length for having failed yet again. Alternatively, we may refuse to acknowledge that we even made a mistake, thus entering a state of denial and defensiveness, perhaps even blaming someone else. Neither of these states are useful for correcting the mistake, nor will they stop it from happening again. Like gambling to recover our previous losses, we only make our situation worse.

The fact is, we will make mistakes, and often we will make the same mistakes time and time again. This is OK! We must be patient with ourselves. We must calmly see what led us to make the mistake, and simply try to avoid it in the future. It does not matter how many times we repeat this process.

Making peace with imperfection extends to others as well. We must not expect those around us to be perfect, particularly our close friends or partners. To expect perfection from others is unreasonable, particularly given our own lack of perfection. Furthermore, life is imperfect. Things will go wrong. It may rain on our picnic. We may get sick on vacation. We must learn to accept such things. The world is imperfect, we are imperfect, but that does not mean that all is lost, and it need not stop us from being happy.

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