Though we subject ourselves to a spartan diet of effective communication skills, we fail to shed the extra calories that result in a gamut of misunderstandings and sufferings amongst our fellow human beings: just like the unwanted flab around your waist after living on a frugal diet and practicing a rigorous workout regimen. So, what is it that will get the world in shape?
Compassion! And it begins with self-compassion.
True compassion is the tool that unmasks the very basic purpose of communication. That is, recognizing and understanding one’s own needs and those of others, leading to a spiral of more profound and positive relationships around the world or even a small little corner of it. It is imperative that we gain a fuller grasp of how we can practice self-compassion in order to effectively communicate with ourselves and in turn with others so as to build a better world.
“I love you.”
You must have uttered these three “oh-so-important” words on innumerable occasions in your life. But, how often have you addressed the “YOU” to yourself? The idea might seem strange or even narcissistic, for most of us fail to distinguish the not-so-thin line between narcissism and self-compassion. Conversely, we attach “I am” more easily and frequently than “You are” to the adjectives “stupid” and “unworthy.”
It is evident that, more often than not, we inadvertently fail to establish a compassionate communication with our own selves. This handicapped self-communication stifles our self-confidence and smothers our self-esteem, thereby negatively affecting our decisions and behavioral patterns and degrading the quality of our lives.
Now, let us take this to a slightly higher level. This distorted self-communication affects us not only at the individual level but also at the group level. When our lack of self-compassionate communication stimulates wrong decisions, attitude, and perspectives in a group, we fail collectively as well.
Going to even higher levels, let us apply this to our society. The success of a society lies in the collaborative inputs from individuals or from the groups of individuals comprising the society as a whole. Failed self-compassionate communication is bound to have ramifications. The way we communicate with ourselves has a direct bearing on how we affect our lives and our society. The more compassionate our communication with our own selves, the more compassionate and adhesive our society.
Self-Compassion through Scatter Diagram
For us to inculcate self-compassionate communication in our everyday lives, self-awareness, self-worth, and self-acceptance are of primary importance. Here’s where the scatter diagram comes into play. Scatter Diagram fosters self-compassion by facilitating the following techniques:
Self-awareness: If we stay tuned to our strengths, we can avert the vicious cycles of self-sabotage and move towards extending compassion to our own selves. Scatter Diagram provides us with a shot of self-awareness and introspection to identify and stay tuned in to our strengths. These strengths are called “points” on a Scatter Diagram. The techniques of Scatter Diagram help keep us focused on our inner landscape, making it a curtain-raiser in the journey towards establishing a seamless compassionate communication with the self.
Self-worth: It is a hard truth that we cannot always achieve what we want to achieve. When we confront this reality, we question our self-worth; we feel threatened by the fear of being perceived by the society as an unworthy individual. We tend to become crippled with pessimistic thoughts of being shamed and criticized by others. The “self-worth” technique reinforces our real strengths and competencies, and helps us design our life based on these strengths. Scatter Diagram, by reminding us of the strong “points” of our personality, helps us derive our sense of self-worth. This technique administers hope and optimism within us and guards us from the apprehension of rejection in the future. By applying the techniques of Scatter Diagram, we inoculate ourselves from self-critical and self-blaming communication. This is achieved by reducing our irrational self-beliefs and fear of shame-proneness and failure.
Self-acceptance: One of the barriers on the path to achieving self-compassion is conditional self-acceptance. It is humane to accept only our positives and not accept our flaws and deficiencies. In doing so, we allow our shortcomings to define us. We fail to treat our identities and our limitations as separate entities. We draw our self- portrait only in terms of our weaknesses and all the positive attributes seem disjointed. By applying the techniques of the Scatter Diagram, we are able to connect all those disjointed positive attributes that seemed unrelated to us and paint our self-portrait in terms of not only our weaknesses but also our strengths. By employing the Scatter Diagram technique, we also build on our strengths and this, in turn, engenders positivity in us to diagnose our less-desirable traits, find meaning in them, and embrace them. This is how the Scatter Diagram technique fosters an objective and self-accepting communication within ourselves.
How the Scatter Diagram Technique has helped me cultivate Self-Compassion
Before you read on how the Scatter Diagram has made a positive difference to my life, it would be worth knowing as to “Who am I?”
In my early childhood, the answer to the question went something like this: “I am a friendly, caring, impulsive, hot-headed girl who is talented, decent at academics, and good at Kathak,” or something like “I am a fair, pretty, and charming young girl.”
However, in my mid-twenties the answer to the same question changed. It read, “I am an underachiever who is not talented enough to be good at anything, and an ugly-looking person who doesn’t look good in any outfit.”
In providing answers to the same question in different stages of my life, I have simply super-imposed others’ perceptional image of myself and heavily relied upon those perceptions to arrive at my conclusions. In childhood, the others, for example, my teachers at school or my relatives, thought highly of me, perceived me as a very good student securing either the first or the second position in class throughout my academic life. After Class 12, I was accepted by several prestigious universities in India for pursuing an Honors degree in Physics. I had always wanted to do so.
However, heavily influenced by my parents and unable to maintain my stance of pursuing an Honors degree in Physics, I decided to take up engineering as a career. It is then, that, the well-intentioned significant others in my life, especially my relatives and friends, changed their perception of me.
I started casting doubts upon my talent. Despite the fact that with very little preparation I managed to find myself within the top two per cent of the State Level Joint Entrance Examination candidates, I borrowed my self-image of my capabilities as a student from those others. I doubted my academic capabilities.
Over the initial years of my professional life, I put my heart and soul into all my assignments but never garnered any attention, let alone appreciation, from my bosses. I constantly compared myself with my colleagues. I saw them outshine me the way I had used to others, back in my school days. I blanketed myself in fear of failure. I paid little or no attention to the potential that I was yet to tap. Gradually, I developed a very thick coat of low confidence and low self-worth.
This influenced the way I communicated and also affected the way I responded to communications. I feared clarifying my doubts from my bosses. I allowed them to overpower me, to criticize me, or to belittle me even when I did not deserve such treatment. I retreated. I lost my voice. I forgot my positives. I perceived myself as an unworthy, incompetent, and good-for-nothing individual. I found myself trapped in a vicious cycle. I could not quit my job in fear of being shamed by others and found it difficult to continue either. This sense of unworthiness was etched so deep into my mind over a period of two to three years that even without realizing, my dreams of pursuing a master’s degree in business administration and of becoming a strategist and eventually a highly successful woman became dormant.
My focus shifted its trajectory from my goals to my appearance. I emphasized only on my looks. Even “obsessed” would be an understatement. I gambled away all my self-esteem on how good I could appear. I defined myself only in terms of my appearance. Consequently, I suffered the ill effects. I became overtly anxious of each and every public appearance, even if that meant stepping out of the house for grocery shopping. I could not take a respite from checking myself on every mirror or windowpane that I passed by when I stepped out. I freaked out when I thought I looked bad, so much so that I could not manage to step outdoors; walking confidently on the street was a dream far-gone. I strived to look perfect in every photo or selfie, failing which I felt naked as though all my flaws were exposed to the world.
Every now and then I would find myself waged in self-defeating wars on social media, constantly comparing my photographs with those of others. I anchored on the weakest weapons such as makeup and beauty filters. I forgot to leverage my most powerful weapons: my confidence and my smile. In the process, I lost my stride in my uniqueness and my self-worth became contingent on my outer—not inner—topography.
It was at this time that I got introduced to this beautiful concept of scatter diagram by my mentor. No wonder, the first thought that ran through my self-critical mind was as to how could a person like me have any point on the Scatter Diagram. But therein lies the beauty of the technique. It requires delving deep within the horizons of your brain. It was for the first time that I started an in-depth analysis of my habits (good and bad), values, passion, hobbies, strengths, and goals.
And, it was not like eureka that I had my Scatter Diagram ready. I had to dig really deep to communicate with my inner self. My brain feasted on the deepest of musings on the following questionnaire:
a) What are the things that give me perpetual happiness?
b) Self-satisfaction or recognition by others, which one blooms me?
c) Benchmark that I set for myself or on the one that others set for me—which one is my motivator?
d) What were the occasions on which I was respected or appreciated? What were the occasions on which I was berated?
e) What do I want people to remember me for?
f) What are my accidental slips?
g) Am I courageous enough to recognize and embrace my imperfections?
Step 1: In my attempts to find answers to these questions, the Scatter Diagram has helped me rediscover things that motivated me like dancing, cooking, writing, and watching movies. It also helped me find my character strengths such as diligence, meticulousness, and courage. That I am good at dancing, cooking, writing journals was a disjointed event of the past. Scatter Diagram reinstated them. My conception of my self was, until now, defined only in terms of my appearance. Scatter Diagram gave me a wholesome and complete definition of my self by reintroducing my inner qualities.
Step 2: I envisioned my long-term and short-term goals. My goal of getting admission into a top business school and becoming a highly successful woman, which I thought was intangible, seemed attainable. My past achievements (points on the Scatter Diagram) served as constant reminders and sources of hope for an optimistic future.
Rigorous practice of the technique facilitates internalizing hope. The injection of hope through Scatter Diagram enables an improved ability to deal with the fear of shame-proneness arising out of a fear of failure and thereby propels one towards the set goals.
The psychological barrier stemming from a fear of criticism and embarrassment was the number-one barrier that impeded an effective communication between my manager and me. Now that I evaluate my self-esteem in terms of my capabilities, I can deal with any negative feedback more objectively: I treat the criticism and my identity as two separate entities.
So, the fear of criticism is not so aversive. I do not feel afraid to ask my boss as to what his expectations are from the work assigned to me. I do not stumble, if I need to clarify my doubts. Because of my improved self-communication, I can ably understand the information communicated to me by my manager in a manner intended by him. Consequently, I can deliver the expected results and also communicate my ideas and thought processes unambiguously.
Step 3: I chalked out ways to achieve my long-term and short-term goals by making use of points on the Scatter Diagram. This step distinguishes the Scatter Diagram technique from other therapies or counseling techniques. Let us analyze a bit in depth to understand how the Scatter Diagram technique is unique in its operational effectiveness.
The Scatter Diagram technique, like strength-based counseling, aids in providing solutions to people who have poor self-esteem, want to overcome challenges, and achieve their goals but often feel stuck in life. Strength-based counseling helps in identifying strengths and in realizing goals by capitalizing solely on strengths. Unarguably, though working on strengths offers a plethora of benefits, yet focusing only on the strengths can sometimes be a disadvantageous attitude. Emphasizing only on what works for you may leave unaddressed underlying maladaptive thoughts stemming from what does not work for you.
Our weaknesses are our problem areas. The general human tendency is to look for solutions that have worked for us in the past. When you practice the Scatter Diagram technique, you have a natural inclination towards scouting for points with similar situations or problems and, thereafter, deriving workable solutions from them. In doing so, Scatter Diagram not only focuses on strengths but also addresses the underlying issues or problems arising from weaknesses.
Scatter Diagram by the sheer nature of it—that is, scattered—explains why you cannot always focus just on your strengths, and, sometimes, how the best way to move forward is to embrace the imperfections and address the underlying problems arising from those imperfections. In the process, the weaknesses themselves could become the points on the Scatter Diagram and serve as reminders that those weaknesses themselves can be turned into strengths by accepting them and addressing them.
A constant point on the Scatter Diagram could be the ability to take up one’s weaknesses. It is needless to say how embracing weaknesses does not result in misplaced perceptions of reality and in chasing unrealistic targets. For instance, one of my strengths is “meticulousness.” When I leveraged only on meticulousness, I tried to perfect every minute aspect of my appearance and when unable to do so, I could not accept the asymmetry and settle for anything less. I found myself invariably trapped in the self-harming vicious cycles.
Movies, a constant point on my Scatter Diagram, introduced me to Olive from the 2006 award-winning American blockbuster movie Little Miss Sunshine and made me believe in the dictum: “Let Olive be Olive.” From Olive, I learnt that it is okay to not conform to the conventional standards of beauty and that it is more important to embody one’s wholeness. Scatter Diagram gave me ample resources to broaden the horizon of my idea of beauty and encouraged me to become more self-accepting and love every bit of me. Now, I use meticulousness to fuel self-improvement without being destructive. With continued practice, the ability to find comfort from discomfort could become one of my points on the scatter plot.
The Scatter Diagram technique, in enabling me to harness the power of self-compassion, has streamlined my inner and outer communication skills. I feel safer and more-cared-for with my new self. I am bestowed with more courage to practice imperfections. I have garnered more resilience to strive towards my personal and professional goals. My transformation from a stingily self-compassionate to a self-loving person was definitely not a cakewalk and certainly not an overnight phenomenon.
However, the intermediary trek to get me there is worth savoring every bit.
The Bottom Line
The most crucial yet less-touched-upon faucet of communication is the ability to avoid misunderstanding. Lack of compassion and, more importantly, the lack of self-compassion blocks our ability to understand ourselves and others. At the heart of the Scatter Diagram technique is the process to inculcate self-compassion. Scatter Diagram technique makes you self-aware by making you revisit the arenas from where your self-esteem stems, redesigns your life based on the positives inside you, and aligns your self-image with the reality free from your biases.
More importantly, Scatter Diagram, in its uniqueness, helps you identify your negative triggers and rather than sweeping them under the rug, allows you to embrace those negatives. It also gives you the opportunity to tap the best out of our negatives.
I have shared my story. So, all the people out there with poor self-esteem jammed with distorted inner and outer communication skills and unable to navigate your way through the pits towards your goals, please try your hands on the Scatter Diagram tool to become a more self-loving, a healthier self-esteemed, a better self-managed person and, last but definitely not the least, a more effective communicator.
The key to mastering this technique is the old cliché: “The more you practice, the better you’ll be.”
Practice, till it becomes your reflex.
Srija Chakraborty is an Assistant Manager at Tata Consulting Engineers Limited. Other than the challenges in Mechanical Design Engineering, she is also keen on designing her life. She is a food nerd. Cooking is her stress-buster and she loves backpacking, too. She is a trained Kathak dancer. She adorned her feet with the ghungroo at the age of six and practices the patience and perseverance that Kathak has taught her.