Self Compassion: First Aid for the Soul
Holiday time, no matter if you celebrate Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or don't recognize the holidays at all, can be a particularly stressful time of year. Treating yourself with compassion can keep the holiday anxiety, expectations and disappointments under control.
You wouldn't tell your best friend that they are dumb, stupid and ugly, so why is OK to tell yourself these cruel things?
In our Western society we are brought up to be nice and considerate to family, friends, baristas, people at the DMV and animals. But we are (usually) never taught how to be nice to ourselves. In fact the achievement oriented society of the United States has us believing that we will be more productive, better people if we constantly call ourselves names, beat ourselves up over minor mistakes, and generally hate ourselves into being a ‘better person’.
Imagine if you said to a friend what you say to yourself:
Friend: I really blew it at work. I completely forgot I was supposed to present in front of the whole department and I had to wing it. It was not pretty.
You: Wow, what a dumb **it you are! I bet everyone saw how stupid you are and are wondering how soon you will be fired. No one else would make a mistake like that, you must be really ashamed and probably should never show your face at the office again. You should start looking for another job, not that anyone would hire someone as incompetent as you.
Yikes. That sounds really harsh and I cannot imagine ever saying that to anyone, but we do the very same thing to ourselves every day.
EVERY SINGLE DAY.
How do we survive with such a voice in our heads telling us how inadequate we are? Not very well. Anxiety, depression, overwhelm and hopelessness are signs that our inner critic is taking over our lives.
The good news is there is something that we can do!
Showing ourselves self-compassion, treating ourselves like we would a treasured friend, can completely transform our lives.
I’ll be writing more about this, but for today I will focus on the first tenant of self-compassion; Self-Kindness vs. Self Judgement.
Self-Kindness vs. Self Judgement, is defined by preeminent self-compassion researcher Dr. Kristin Neff as:
“Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. People cannot always be or get exactly what they want. When this reality is denied or fought against suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism. When this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced.”
Aaahhh. When I read this I instantly feel more calm and centered. It gives me permission to release the burden of constantly evaluating myself and coming up short.
I work everyday to be more kind and gentle with myself (and I don’t always succeed). But when I do treat myself this way, I am also more kind and gentle with the people in my life.
One thing you can do this week to start cultivating your own self- compassion is to notice when you are saying hateful words to yourself. Just notice it, be curious (instead of being judgy) and name it lightly: ‘Oh there I go again calling myself names, interesting’.
The goal is not to beat yourself up every time you notice your inner critic going off, but to begin to notice how often it actually happens, without any judgment.
You are just noticing it!
Extra Credit: When you do notice the hurtful words you can design a mantra to say to yourself. This actually starts to rewire your brain (neuroplasticity) and creates pathways that lift you up instead of tearing you down.
My mantra is: I love and Accept Myself.
What will yours be?