Shifting Perspectives: Treating Emotions with Tenderness

December 05, 2023
This story took place in Australia

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Recently I read a book called ‘Anger’ by Thich Nhat Hanh. I like strengthening my emotional literacy and understanding the ways that emotions are communicated between people.  In the book, Thich Nhat Hanh uses the analogy of anger as a baby and describes how one way to embrace and process anger without judgement is to treat anger as you may treat a child; with tenderness, curiosity, and without judgment. He writes: “‘Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying. The baby needs his mother to embrace him. You are the mother for your baby, your anger.’”

I started thinking about other emotions that, like anger, can hold negative connotations and how framing these emotions with a non-judgmental, parental, or
kind attitude could change my experience of these feelings in a more positive way.

One such feeling is shame. Not long ago, I was at an event with some peers and people who are well established in their psychology careers. As I am studying to become a psychologist, I wanted to be myself but also sought to impress them as I was presenting on something important to me. I’m rather shy and can be a bit anxious in these situations. Before the presentation began, I was talking in a small group and shared an anecdote.

Then the judgmental, shame filled part of my brain started commenting. Why did you just say that? That was kind of irrelevant to the conversation. These people probably think you’re clueless, and they’re probably judging you right now.

I then reframed these thoughts with ones that had more self-compassion: I’m being harsh on myself. These people are unlikely to be judging me as hard as I’m judging myself right now. I’m just learning about this new topic, and it’s okay if I make mistakes.

Reframing helped me to remember that most of the time, the people around us are preoccupied with their own lives and are usually not focusing on judging our flaws or moments of anxiety.

Having self-compassion in these moments has helped me to be kinder to myself. Self- compassion involves being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, make mistakes, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.

I think self-compassion is important for everyone to practice, but especially for people like me who may find themselves in situations where they are shyer or more introverted than those around them.

Just because you are shy or quiet, doesn’t mean that your opinion isn’t important. Your voice has value, and your ideas are worth sharing, even when they are not as loud as other people’s. Everyone has unique experiences and ways of communicating.

When we show compassion to ourselves in the same way we do for others and make space for different perspectives, ideas, and forms of communication, our ideas can thrive, and we can work together to solve problems in unique ways.

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