“Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
This insight is universal because it reminds us that the people in our lives are dealing with their own hardships; that they have their own pain to process.Even with a sage reminder like this, why is it that we only see our own distress when in the middle of hard times? Why do we feel that we have a monopoly on pain?
We first must understand why we become more self-centered in times of anxiety. A recent study found that troubled feelings increase our reliance on egocentric thinking–meaning that we stop seeing other’s perspectives while distressed. We become more self-centered when experiencing unhappy circumstances and this causes us to only see our own agonies because of our agitated, single-focused minds.
Our selfishness is bound to be apparent to others as well. One study has shown that patients who used more first-person pronouns (I and me) during therapy sessions had a higher incidence of depression while other research found that people suffering from social anxiety manifest more exaggerated self-attention. Once we understand the physiological reason behind our selfishness and how it negatively affects us, we have to start combating it.
One way we can minimize our monopoly on pain is to
listen. Many times we assume we know someone’s struggle without hearing the whole story but we are really just filling in the blanks with our own experiences. If we commit to pausing our assumptions and listening, we can start to see perspectives outside our own.
Another way is to begin practicing empathy. It is hard when our brains are set on only seeing the narrow scope of our experiences but if we attempt to put ourselves in another’s shoes, we will begin to empathize with them and their troubles. It is difficult when it feels all life’s troubles are aimed solely at us but that feeling isn’t accurate. We must look past our personal pain and see that we are all fighting our own battles and then we’ll gain enough mutual understanding to join forces.
At the end of the day, no one really cares about what award you won, how much money you made, what you spent on your car, how many politicians you know, how great your hair looks, or what grades you got. What they will care about is how good you made them feel, and trust me when I say that self-centered people rarely make people feel good.