It’s common for people to have parts of themselves that are self-critical. Our self-critical parts only want the best for us and have likely helped us to get where we are now. But oftentimes, self-critical parts can be bullies, who play an over-sized role in our internal system. While self-criticism in small doses can help us learn from our mistakes and achieve our goals, when we’re overly harsh with ourselves, we get the opposite of what we want. Research shows that being self-critical leads to anxiety and depression, substance use, physical health problems, increased anger, poor body image, criticism of others, withdrawal from relationships, and can stop us from taking risks.
On the other hand, when was the last time you showed yourself compassion? When we practice self-compassion, our mood improves, we’re more likely to be compassionate toward our partner and others, and our relationships become stronger. We’re also more likely to take responsibility for our transgressions and grow.
What do I mean by self-compassion? Chris Germer, who created the Mindful Self Compassion program along with Kristin Neff, says compassion is suffering met with love. Compassion for others is also the recognition that suffering is part of what makes us human; that recognition of our common humanity helps to connect us to one another.
Self-compassion is compassion turned inward. It means offering some love, kindness, and encouragement to the part of you who is suffering. It often involves being curious and about why it is that you’re hurting, so it helps you explore what is happening and can lead to increased understanding and self-knowledge.
Self-compassion is not self-pity or self-indulgence. It doesn’t mean treating yourself to the rest of the bottle of wine because you’ve had a hard day. Self-compassion means NOT beating yourself up if you did over-indulge. It means coming up with a plan for a healthier way to take care of yourself the next time you’re tempted to over-indulge again, because you truly care about your body and health.
When we treat ourselves compassionately, we’re also more likely to take responsibility for our words and actions. If we lash out at our partner in anger, we might feel regret. If we become too self-critical, we might fall into self-pity, isolate, and feel too ashamed to apologize. With self-compassion, we can recognize that we there was a part of ourselves that was hurting, which was why we went into self-protection mode and said or did something harmful. We can then show ourselves kindness without any accompanying shame. Without shame, we’re more likely to see that our reaction hurt our partner and apologize. We can then explore other ways to respond that both take care of your tender spots, and are more respectful of your partner.
Self-compassion can be an enormous challenge to those who have an intense self-critic, so go slowly if this is new for you. If you find yourself upset, angry, or stressed out, see if you can offer yourself just a drop of kindness. Build on your progress. Learning Loving-Kindness Meditation can help (there are lots of online resources), as well as getting the support of a coach or therapist.
Practicing self-compassion has helped me tremendously this past year as I grieved the death of my brother and struggled with the resulting family distress. It has also helped me be better a partner, parent, coach, friend, and business owner.
I invite you to practice self-compassion on a daily basis. Check in with yourself periodically. Do you need to show yourself a bit of tenderness? If you try it, I hope you’ll let me know how it goes. You, your partner/family/friends/co-workers, and your relationships will all benefit.
May you and your relationships thrive!