How Self-Compassion Can Help Alleviate Driving Fears

compassionLet’s say a pal of yours suffers from driving anxiety. Every time she gets behind the wheel she seizes up and is overwhelmed with driving panic. After about five minutes of calming down, she eventually pulls out and heads down the road, but it’s not always smooth sailing, so to speak.

You once even witnessed a panic attack she had when it came time to head toward the highway. She had to actually pull over until her heart rate subsided, her breathing went back to normal and she no longer felt like she was being crushed in a vise.

If you’re a good pal, you probably offer her kindness and compassion as she struggles with her driving phobias. You express that in the form of hugs, encouragement and soothing words. You may even help her practice her driving or accompany her to her driving safety classes and her first therapist’s appointment to work on alleviating her fears.

She is after, all, your good friend. And she deserves to be treated with kindness, compassion and respect – yet it’s often tough to provide that same level, or any level, of kindness, compassion and respect for ourselves.

Instead of self-hugs, encouragement and soothing words, we may instead judge ourselves as jerks for being plagued with driving fears. We can compound this self-imposed jerk-dom with a barrage of nasty insults:

“I’m so stupid! There’s nothing to be afraid of. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just get a grip?”

What gives?

Habit of Self-Sabotage

Our habit of berating, belittling and judging ourselves may stem from a couple of fallacies, according to Part of our habit of sabotaging ourselves can stem from the myths surrounding self-compassion.

“There’s a common misconception in our society that being kind to ourselves is weak and comes with grave consequences,” PsychCentral says.

We may wrongly think a bit of self-compassion can lead to a lot of problems with our health, our work and even our driving fears. If we proverbially “let ourselves off the hook” for any behaviors, even when it comes to driving fears we cannot control, we may be under the impression that not only will the fears get worse but all hell will break loose in our lives.

Society can also play a role in our self-sabotage with the overall mindset that any form of self-kindness is a sign of selfishness or self-indulgence. Those who are instead hard on themselves are respected as ambitious go-getters with much admired discipline and a no-nonsense attitude of success. The self-compassionate, society says, they must be a bunch of weaklings.

Busting the Self-Compassion Myths

Instead of self-compassion making us weak, PsychCentral says it can actually achieve the opposite effect. Because self-compassion can lead to self-acceptance, greater satisfaction in life and taking better care of ourselves with adequate sleep, healthy foods and ample time to unwind and refresh, we can actually end up stronger.

That increased strength, in turn, fuels the power that allows us to be kinder to others, give more of ourselves to others and kick detrimental habits to the curb. We may also find we instantly improve our overall enjoyment and quality of life.

“When we lose our urgent need to denigrate and belittle ourselves, we open ourselves up to a more expansive way to experience life,” author and educator Rosie Molinary tells PsychCentral. 

Self-Compassion Defined

The short definition of self-compassion is treating yourself the same way you would treat a beloved family member or friend. A more detailed definition comes from researcher Kristin Neff, who doubles as the author of the book “Self-Compassion.” She says self-compassion consists of three basic components:

  • Self-kindness
  • Recognition of “common humanity”
  • Mindfulness

Self-kindness involves being understanding and gentle with ourselves, throwing all those critical and judgmental thoughts out the window.

Recognition of common humanity is the feeling of being truly connected with other folks in this experience called life, or the “we’re all in this together” mindset. It’s the belief that everyone is going through their life issues and our own suffering should not make us feel unique, isolated or alienated.

Mindfulness is an acute awareness of the world around us and our place in it. Neff points out mindfulness also involves holding our life experiences in balanced awareness, which means we neither try to ignore our pain nor exaggerate it to astounding proportions. The third part of our five-part series on Emotional Fluidity: Learning to ‘Surf’ Anxiety contains more details and tips for incorporating mindfulness into your daily life.

Self-Compassion Benefits

As you may have already guessed, incorporating self-compassion into your life can result in a bevy of benefits, with one of the top ones an alleviation of your driving anxiety and fears. Because self-compassion does not rely on outside validation, comparisons of being “better than” other folks or meeting a specific aim or goal, it’s readily available for the taking anytime, anywhere.

Neff says feelings of self-compassion “come from caring about ourselves—fragile and imperfect yet magnificent as we are.”

How cool is that?

Such feelings don’t disappear when our driving fears kick in pretty heavy or something goes afoul, either. That’s when it can especially come to the rescue, providing the nurturing kindness, human connection and balanced perspective we need to get through the tough stuff with strength and grace.

Neff says the benefits of self-compassion include:

  • Higher self-esteem
  • Significantly lower levels of anxiety and depression
  • Fewer feelings of self-consciousness and nervousness
  • Increased optimism, positive emotions and happiness
  • Ability to remain balanced when things do not pan out as hoped
  • Deeper and more meaningful connections with others 

As glorious as the concept of self-compassion is, not everyone can snap their fingers and instantly achieve it. As with anything else worthwhile in life, it may take some repeated practice to develop and grow. Self-compassion is also not something you can read about in a book and memorize like some complicated chemistry equation. Rather, you need to incorporate it into your daily life on a regular basis until it becomes as regular a habit as that mean ole self-sabotage used to be.

Also check out: 6 Ways to Invite Self-Compassion into Your Life


Photo Credit: AlicePopkorn via Compfight cc