COVID-19 and Scarcity Culture


Now that you’re here, let’s take a deep breath together, shall we?

Okay, now take another one.

How was that? What did you notice?

Here are some things I’ve been noticing in myself lately: fear, anxiety, uncertainty, frustration, anger, guilt… to name a few.

I’ve also noticed gratitude and appreciation.

I imagine you can relate to some of these. The COVID-19 pandemic has asked a lot of us. And it’s no surprise to me that I keep hearing people (my clients and loved ones alike) talk about feeling guilty about feeling their pain. In response, the decision is often to shut it down because others have it so much worse. In such conversations, this is when I like to remind others, and myself, that: Compassion Isn’t Toilet Paper (stay with me here, I have a point).

In Daring Greatly (2012), Brené Brown talks about the concept of Scarcity Culture. Scarcity Culture refers to the dominant belief that we never are and never have enough (of anything). It is largely fueled by comparison and shame. But the thing is, there are no limited quantities on compassion, for yourself or others. Choosing to invalidate your own pain does not give you any more compassion, love, or kindness, to give to someone that, as you believe, has it worse than you.

You are allowed (and capable) of feeling multiple things at once. You can feel scared or sad at the current state of the world, AND feel grateful for the roof over your head, the food in your fridge, or the health of your loved ones. In fact, the more you extend compassion to yourself, the easier it will be to offer compassion to those who may be less privileged.

We are living a collective paradox right now. In our isolation, we are connected. This connection is key to self-compassion. As Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion (2011), explains, Shared Humanity is one of three key components of self-compassion. We bring comfort to our pain when we acknowledge suffering as a shared human experience, especially in times of crisis.

So, let me ask a few things of you, if I may:

  1. Notice Scarcity Culture when it comes up. Tell your loved ones it’s normal to feel scared or sad or anxious during a crisis. Remind them that this does not invalidate the suffering of anyone else.
  2. Allow yourself to slow down. It might seem on the surface like you have more time available, and this may create pressure to be more productive. But tuning into ourselves takes time; grieving our “normal” takes time.
  3. Find connection in any way you can. Human beings (even the most introverted of us) need social connection. Yes, maintain your physical distance. AND: Pick up the phone, send a handwritten letter, have a Zoom or FaceTime party. Whatever you need to do.
  4. And most importantly, while you may need to ration your toilet paper or other household goods, please… Do not ration your compassion!

If you’re interested in learning more about Scarcity Culture within the COVID-19 context, I recommend listening to Brené Brown’s recent podcast, “Brené on Comparative Suffering, the 50/50 Myth, and Settling the Ball” which you can find here:

You can also read more about Kristin Neff’s work on Self-Compassion at her website:


Victoria Martindale, MEd, RP, CCC, is a Registered Psychotherapist working with The Counselling Group and The Walk-In Counselling Clinic. She works with individual adults from a variety of approaches, with a special interest in Narrative Therapy.

The Counselling Group offers a variety of experienced therapists who can support positive changes and growth in your life. For more information, please visit the or call 613-722-2225 x352 to speak with an intake worker today.

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