This is a toughy and is something I really struggle to work out the difference between and I know others do too. Part of me hopes that by writing it will help me as well as others!
Let’s start with definitions.
Avoidance – not doing something because it will cause anxiety and by not doing whatever it is will hold you back in the long term.
Self-compassion – being nice to yourself and recognising when you need stop and to give yourself time to look after yourself without causing setback.
These two things will, to most people, seem totally different. But when you are trying to recover from a mental health problem it is very easy to convince yourself you are being self compassionate when in fact you are avoiding / putting off something you should be doing.
For 2 years I have not been able to get on any public transport. I thought I was being ‘self compassionate’ for not getting on it for the fear of set back (fear of panic attack or unhealthy thoughts returning). I was actually avoiding it. By avoiding (aside from gaining the nickname PU ‘princess uber’! ) it has in fact delayed my recovery. The fear has been able to build up for such a long time it is a mountain to climb. It has also given me a great excuse for not doing things, such a socialising or going places I did not want to go to. I am very slowly trying to overcome this which will enable me to pick up my life .
It is very easy to avoid something but very hard to be self-compassionate.
Things people say are self-compassionate are things such as, yoga, taking a walk, eating something you like, having a hot bubble bath etc. Generally treating yourself, but NOT doing it to avoid something you really should be doing. Doing one of these things and pretending we are being self-compassionate is avoidance.
Being compassionate can be very hard, especially when you are having a bad day as it takes so much energy to do the smallest of things. When you are avoiding something it is easier for you to do something self compassionate as it is an excuse (I think that is what I am learning at least!!)
Avoidance is self-sabotage without knowing. It provides temporary relief but longer-term problems.
Avoidance is a vicious cycle, once you start it gets harder and harder to break as it builds up and up in your head until it becomes impossible.
See from my example above:
By not using public transport, I have lost touch with friends even more, which gives me no push to make myself get on it again for fear being rejected. This fear of rejection grow and grows until it becomes a bigger reason not to try on public transport again as my anxiety of being rejected, has built up to an even higher level of rejection.
Then you have the confusing element which is some things ARE wise to avoid incase they cause further distress. This is where I find it hard to put my finger on what it is, so end up knowingly avoiding things. It is knowing when it is ok to avoid something to be self-compassionate.
The one thing people don’t tell you is that you don’t know if you are doing self compassion right. So that is something we / I still need to wait to find out….