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How Do You Balance Self-Compassion With Self-Discipline/improvement Or Mental Toughness?


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How do people find their way back to being able to be compassionate enough on themselves in their thoughts and actions, while tough or firm or disciplined enough on themselves to begin to get better results again?

I'm sure people have different ways of thinking about and doing this, and I thought it could be useful for some of us to hear what works.

I know that I need somehow to be able to find this balance or dialectic. I am not sure I know how, and I probably make it far to complex.

Most of the time these days, I feel so overwhelmed, so desperate, and hanging by just a thread of hope, it seems all I can do to get through another day without losing it. Many of us feel this way and I think have this feeling of 'where do I start?'

I have known how to be tough on myself - this is part of what pushed me through my school years through some difficulties and setbacks and even to excel through law school and through my first few years of practice. And certainly now, I know how to wallow in self-pity and struggle with emotional regulation. I hate how ingrained and how strong this mental habit and associated behavior has become, but hating it doesn't help.

I probably know some of the answers from working through some of it along with a lot of this community and from DBT. But it honestly seems very illusive and mysterious and hard to keep in focus and in proper balance. I wonder what thoughts others out there have and what people have actually found effective at building lives they want to live more?

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To be honest I didn't do a darn thing about my mental health until I fell into a crisis about it a little over 3 years ago. I thought I was fine. I had myself convinced I was fine when really there was a lot of turmoil going on underneath just waiting for the right moment to get triggered and all the pieces that was holding me together fell apart. I guess in my favor I have always been very spiritual, trying to understand life, why we are here, what people are about so it set the stage for me having a questioning mindset about all of a sudden finding myself bound and determined to destroy myself and not being able to turn the feelings off. It quite frankly took me by total surprise and yet looking back all the signs were there. The fear, stress and anxiety, living life like everything was an emergency, being terrified of my emotions, urges to suicide that came about out of the blue for no cause. Anyways, all of it were things I was able to either suppress or rationalize away and so I was in such denial I thought I was pretty put together but then a very stressful event tipped me over and I had to face my demons. And I guess from the start I just questioned everything that I was thinking and feeling trying to understand why. I journaled so that I could hear what my thoughts were saying. I allowed myself to have emotional meltdowns in privacy when no one was around to prove to myself I didn't have to fear myself. But mostly I used my dreams to help get some guidance on what was wrong and what to do next. The biggest thing they tried to relay was that it wasn't going to happen over night. The healing was a process that was going to take time if I was to do it without it breaking me. I have always had a fast way about me. Get to the point and move on and my dreams on a number of occasions had to tell me to slow down, there is still a lot more work that needs to be done. So the main message was set my sights on healing the pain, make it a goal that you are determined to achieve but be gentle with myself as I worked through it all. We are going to have ups and downs, successes and stumbles, but all of it, each step is progressing us towards a healing even if it feels like we are going no where. We know more now then when we did when this started so just keep walking. That is what we mostly need to do is keep walking doing whatever we need to do to never give up.

It is hard to be in pain. None of us wants to be there but the worst thing we can do is get down on ourselves for being in pain and not being able to turn it around in an instant. A lot of people who are depressed have a lot of negative thinking habits that need to be to be broken. Being mindful of how we are responding to life and what our thoughts are saying about it is a process that can take time to sort out. I used my dreams to help push that understanding along but you don't need to be adept at dream work to figure yourself out. We just need to be mindful of ourselves and we will actually eventually reveal ourselves to ourselves. Then it becomes a matter of breaking toxic habits which just takes time. I know where my achilles heel is, I know my triggers but I still get anxious and I still get triggered into feeling self destructive but I am learning to try to find new ways to respond when that happens and I do better on some occasions and not so well on others but with each experience I am learning and getting stronger.

So to answer your question, not quite sure if it is about conquering depression or about reaching some other hoped for goal in life, the message is really the same. Always be self compassionate first and if you find yourself starting to get too hard on yourself then you have gone too far in your self discipline and it will actual work to counter your cause. You don't need to be tough. I think that is what gets us into trouble in the first place, beating ourselves up because we aren't tough enough. Then when we fail we are not encouraged to keep trying. We don't need to have our self fixed or figured out right this minute, we just need to set a goal, be gentle with ourselves and just keep walking.

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There are so many things that make everything so complicated, so many ideas that although good natured just adds to the guilt (I'm looking at you, "Not enough willpower", "not enough motivation", "Nobody likes negative people don't be so negative" "You have to like yourself first..."! (But I digress) (I like saying "But I digress" far too much))

I think goals can be very helpful, but I just personally generally feel too "mentally elsewhere" most of the time to set any. It's hard to set goals that aren't too within your comfort zone they become meaningless but not too outside of it so it all becomes so daunting you'd rather drift off to Happy Land. And when I find myself in dilemmas, like I do as a rule, I just turn it off ("like a light switch just go click...")

So that is to not-answer your question. That was more on the subject of setting goals and the difficulty to implement it in practice I guess, how to stop forgetting and stop making excuses without beating yourself up for making excuses and thus not trying enough and in this situation should I exercise self-compassion or beat myself up with my desk lamp? Both good options. At the end of the day the desk lamp isn't going to make the unwanted behaviour go away, self compassion (and this is compassion and NOT pity) will probably have a healthier effect and won't render me a bed vegetable so... I think one step is to stay in the compassion zone first and foremost and not cross the line into self-pity because that is just disguised punishment anyway.

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How do people find their way back to being able to be compassionate enough on themselves in their thoughts and actions, while tough or firm or disciplined enough on themselves to begin to get better results again?

This is a tough one.

My problem: I am an insecure overachiever. If I am not the best at something, or at least not ******* myself (mentally and physically) to become the best, I feel like a failure.

Things that help me, or things that I try to remember:

-Being angry with myself isn't helping my mental state. My worst enemy is my inner bully.

-Being realistic about my goals (this one is difficult as I set my standards extremely high, and I still struggle with this). I may accomplish a goal, but it may not be within the timeframe that I had planned. I take this into account.

-I try to not compare myself to others. Doing this is the kiss of death. When I am wondering what everyone else will be thinking when I fail I am not doing the best I can. I reexamine my priorities. Am I doing this bc I really want to? Or am I concerned about my image.

-Remembering what worked before to gain success, and being proud of what I learned in during the down times. I congratulate myself on being open enough and mature enough to reflect on what I have learned.

-Being mindful of the fact that yes, I am going to die someday. Do I want people to stand over my grave and say "Wow, she was a really good CFO. She saved the company from bankruptcy." No.

I want them to talk about the good times that we had together and how they saw how much I enjoyed life even though it was a struggle. This helps me put work into perspective, and that maybe, I shouldn't work every weekend.

-I think: "How much would I be accomplishing right now if I just pushed my emotions aside and just do what I need to do."

- I need insight from those around me who have a clearer perspective on my goals and my mindset. My thinking can get distorted, so I draw on their observations as they are objective.

It is a delicate balance. Hopefully, once I get this emotional regulation thing down, I can throw my antidepressants in the toilet.

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What Kad33788 said about drawing insight from others--that has helped me too. When people share (here or elsewhere) about how they achieved something, I either figure I can do it too, or it's not worth the trouble for my skill set.

That's just one way of doing things... I also believe seriously that my brain chemistry needs help and I am thankful for my meds. They really turned things around for me. They help me stop listening to negative voices saying, "You can't do that!" or "You didn't do enough! It's not perfect! No one will want to engage with you ever!"

Tiredness, lack of sleep really hurts the healing process. And for me so does eating carby, sugary stuff. That said, it's a long process and I wish I had a treasure map to give you...dig here at the X and there's your motivation and the energy to follow through with whatever your heart desires!

But alas!

Sometimes making little changes that let you know that you deserve to heal. The basics: enough rest, good food and moderate exercise. But if you think you sleep too much, maybe there is where you put the first bit of discipline: sleep only at night...or set a timer to make a nap brief. Then reward yourself for waking up or keeping your promise to yourself. The reward can be anything.

If you believe you are too negative, try to take a negative belief and turn it around until it's positive. e.g. If I say I'm lazy, I try to ask myself how do I know I'm lazy? Maybe I'm just using the time to let my creativity and dreams simmer...something like that.

The thing is it can be small steps.

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This has to be one of the most difficult things ever for me. I don't think I can put into words how hard.

I didn't realise it but what I had done my entire life, to get things done, was to bully, shame and manipulate myself into doing things. Nothing was ever enough and I had to be treated with harshness and rigidity in every situation.

I didn't know I did this until I started to work on lessening my self hatred I was shocked to realise the extent of it. I thought I could use the same techniques to develop a new way forward. Not thought logically of course but rather instinctually.

Hmm. ... that created a lovely little spinning-my-wheels period of total confusion. Do A, realise it's not B so try to use A to do B and just end up at A again. Horrible. It made me feel totally powerless and faulty. The only way I knew how to do things was the actual problem so how to do this?

And then I realised it was going to take some time and doing. I had to unlearn A. For me personally that had to come first and take presidence over B or anything else. I realised there was never going to be a way out of depression and certain other things such as eating disorder stuff without managing this. And it has proved to be essential in managing my mood and levels of depression.

This dialectic problem has been enough to drive me crazy and I have had to accept being able to do less sometimes because of self care and yet other times it has helped me get moving.

One of the most helpful concepts I found when it came to approaching movement (even though I found it humiliatingly juvenile) was to look at it as being a good parent to myself. A good parent loves unconditionally, is patient and kind. Is affirming and sets loving boundaries. If I was truly my parent I would need to be reported to the NSPCC. I literally talk to myself like a child sometimes. Treating myself like this only makes me moderately nauseous these days. I check in with myself and see how I a, approaching myself. Boundaries with myself are essential but how am I approaching them.

So I guess my answer is with time patience and understanding. As well as frustration and a touch of humiliation.

DBT's dialectical approach addresses exactly this type of dynamic. I don't think there is any quick fix or short cut. It just rakes quite a bit of time. As I go along I discover the things that set off that self abuse particularly. And it is always followed by a sharp spike in depression.

There is more I wanted to say but a littlle discombobulated at the moment. Hope that made a tiny bit of sense.

Edited by Fizzle
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Thanks fizzle

That's good to hear and youre right that DBT's dialectical approach addresses exactly this type of dynamic.

I think I unwittingly learned to self berate When I viewed/decided that o was not measuring up to the standards and expectations I had/have set for myself (kind of duh). I need to learn to practice mindful awareness andnother dbt skills such as checking the facts, self compassion, and learninglg to love amd treat myself better even in the imperfections I dont like. And a little cheerleading and working to choose a better attitude as I've done in other areas of my life when I perceive some hope/purpose/self worth etc. Are things I'm working g on with my therapist and myself.

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Hi Gandolf!

From what you shared about how much you evaluated each minute I could see how that would be a possible natural consequence. I think you said you had targets and evaluated each 15 min slot. I think if we have had a long history of functioning in that way it takes some doing to undo it. But I totally believe it is possible. Being angry with yourself when you have a setback is totally normal and related so its OK in that respect. Part of the process. Even if thoroughly horrible!

Edited by Fizzle
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