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, in times that feel difficult and 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 anxiety and depression. Self compassion practices go right to the heart of feelings of inadequacy, shame, and fear, and soothe those. 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 is telling 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 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”. Or it may be more active self-care, such as going for a massage, calling a dear friend, letting yourself have a sleep in, or pampering yourself however you need.
#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 in saying "others struggle with this too. 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 put around your shoulders, rather than using that whip of self-criticism? For more information and practices, see www.self-compassion.org.