Very often, many of us find ourselves criticizing and judging ourselves. We may have a loud inner voice that criticizes our bodies, our actions, our choices, or even our feelings. Instead of accepting who and how we are, we focus on what is wrong and how we need to change. We sometimes “whip” ourselves, with the hope that we’ll be motivated to change. However, we may find that that harsh self-talk instead brings on shame and feelings of failure, and we end up less motivated and more “stuck”.
Self-compassion offers an alternative. It offers the possibility for us to stop labeling things as “good” or “bad, and to simply accept ourselves with an open heart. Self-compassion is being able to observe how we’re doing and give compassion to ourselves, both in times that feel difficult and in times that feel great. Regardless of how or what we’re doing, to be able to say, “I’m here, I’m doing my best, I’m ok”.
People who are more self-compassionate tend to report less incidence of anxiety and depression. Self compassion practices go right to the heart of feelings of inadequacy, shame, and fear, and offer soothing. The spinning mind, often present in anxiety, slows or stops. When we can be kind to ourselves, those feelings of warmth and safety actually de-activate our body’s threat system, and calm down the brain structure (called the amygdala) that tells us we must fight or flee. Anxiety often settles and quiets.
So next time you’re struggling and that critical self-talk starts, see if you can offer yourself self-compassion, by practicing one or more of these three things:
#1 – give yourself kindness and care.
This can be as simple as taking a moment to acknowledge that you’re struggling, and saying kind words to yourself. Perhaps it’s as simple as saying “This is a really hard time right now. I’m really hurting”
#2 – remind yourself that encountering pain is part of the shared human experience
Often, when we’re in pain, we think we’re alone. There is something very soothing to say, others struggle with this too. I’m not alone. All humans have painful experiences. All humans make mistakes. All humans feel this at times. I’m not alone.
#3 – hold your thoughts and emotions in mindful awareness
This is that compassionate observer, the noticer – “Oh, I notice that I’m feeling this right now. Oh, I notice that I’m having this thought.” Without judgement.
Can you offer yourself a soft cozy blanket of self-compassion to wrap around your shoulders, rather than using that whip of self-criticism? Many of the thoughts and ideas here come from the research and writings of Dr. Kristen Neff. For more information, please see her website at www.self-compassion.org.