One of the downfalls of living in a society which stresses the ethic of independence and individual achievement is that if we don’t reach our ideal goals, we feel we need to beat ourselves senseless. We believe this strong and relentless self-criticism will make us a stronger, better, and more resilient person……right?
So what really happens when we enter down this path of thinking?
We fall into a vicious cycle of painful mental self-abuse.
If you think that you are making yourself a better person by beating yourself up when you make mistakes, think again. You are actually causing increased feelings of inadequacy and insecurity and most likely, you are taking your frustrations out on the people closest to you.
What can you do to help break this cycle of self-criticism and self-judgement? Start practicing self-compassion!
You may be thinking what the heck? This sounds soft and squishy! I get it…the process of being self-compassionate is misunderstood by many. Some even see it as being self-indulgent, self-centered and narcissistic.
But it isn’t.
Studies have shown that instituting a practice of self-compassion will lead to increased emotional well-being, the ability to cope with difficulties in our lives, an increase in intrinsic motivation, improvement in our relationships, and a happier life. Why wouldn’t anyone want more of this! 🙂
So what is self-compassion?
According to Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion – The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, has discovered that to be self-compassionate requires three core components:
- To be kind to yourself. To be gentle and understanding rather than harshly critical and judgmental. Here’s a novel thought? How many of us are truly practicing this?
- To recognize our common humanity. To remember that we are connected with others as we experience life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering.
- Mindfulness. To hold our experience in a balanced awareness rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it. Mindfulness is the ability to know whats going on in our head without getting carried away by it.
Being self-compassionate means that you talk to and treat yourself the same way you would a good friend. Wow! Can you imagine how much more happier (and productive!) you would be with just this one shift in your thinking?
Self-compassion is the same as the compassion that you give to others – it’s just directed at you. It is the seeing and recognition of suffering and involves feelings of kindness for us, the sufferer, which in turn evokes a natural desire to help.
“Self-compassion is the recognizing of our shared human condition – flawed and fragile as it is.” – Kristin Neff
Although self-compassion generates positive emotions, it doesn’t do so by judging ourselves as “good” or “bad.” Self-esteem refers to the degree to which you evaluate yourself positively. It represents how much you like or value yourself, and is often based on comparison to others.
In contrast, self-compassion is not based on positive judgments or evaluations—it is a way of positively relating to yourself. People feel self-compassion because they are human, not because they are special or above average, so our interconnection rather than separateness is emphasized. With self-compassion, you do not have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself.
Also, self-compassion offers more emotional stability than self-esteem because it is always there for you—when you’re on top of the world and when you fall flat on your face.
“If you are continually judging and criticizing yourself while trying to be kind to others, you are drawing artificial boundaries and distinctions that only lead to feelings of separation and isolation.” Kristin Neff
We need to stop the constant self-judgment and negative internal commentary that most of us have come to see as “normal” and become more self-compassionate.
Why is it more difficult to cut ourselves slack?
Because when we fail our concept of self is threatened and, when we feel threatened our body pumps out cortisol (remember this is the stress hormone) and we slip into fight, flight, or freeze mode. We react as if our lives are in danger and we become both the attacker and the attacked. This instinct was useful when we needed to be concerned about being eaten by a saber toothed tiger but not when we slip up and make a mistake in the twenty-first century.Why is it easier to be compassionate for others?
When someone else fails our prehistoric default fight, flight, freeze doesn’t get triggered because we aren’t threatened. It’s not our failure – not our self-concept that is in jeopardy so we easily and quickly have compassion for others.
“If we were perfect, we wouldn’t be human; we’d be Barbie and Ken – plastic figurines that look good but are also dead as doorknobs. Warm, breathing, human life is a constantly unfolding wonder, not a static state of flawless sameness. Being alive involves struggle and despair as well as joy and glory.” – Kristin Neff
What can you do to start a practice of self-compassion?
- Break the cycle by learning to label your strong emotions when you feel them. This jolts you outside of your current state and gives you perspective for what’s really going on.
- Track and sense where you feel emotions in your body. This process allows you know when you’ve been triggered.
- Learn how to soothe yourself when experiencing a difficult emotion.
- Ask yourself the following four questions to help you to listen deeply to what you need most in this heightened moment:
- What am I observing?
- What am I feeling?
- What am I needing right now?
- Do I have a request of myself or of someone else?
These steps are not to get rid of the emotion you’re feeling, they are to help see things objectively and to be able to understand the messages your emotions are giving you.
“Remember that when faced with your human imperfection, you can either respond with Kindness and care or with criticism and judgement.” – Kristin Neff
I got the opportunity to meet Kristin Neff in person at a day long seminar in San Francisco a few weeks ago – this is a picture of us below. I believe her work is on the cusp of a cultural revolution. Yes, this is a strong statement but I believe the power of self-compassion can be learned by anyone, and her research has proven that self-compassion helps to build a more focused and happier life and who among us doesn’t want this?
If you found this post helpful and you want to learn more, I highly suggest that you pick up Kristin Neff’s book.