I find that both in myself and in the patients and clients I work with, the tendency to fall into self-judgment and self-criticism can come on quickly when things are not going as planned. If you experience something similar, don’t beat yourself up (more) over it. Why is it that when something painful or hard happens for a friend, we empathize, we recognize how difficult the situation is, and often, we offer to just be with them while they wrap their minds around it all, yet we neglect to do that for ourselves? We give them time to be in what is happening before moving on to the “doing something about it” phase.
When we experience challenging times in our own lives, we must treat ourselves as we would treat that friend. And to do so, we must turn to self-compassion.
Frequently, we are supportive and compassionate to what others are feeling and going through, but for ourselves, we neglect to acknowledge how difficult the situation may really be and instead skip straight to the completely non-compassionate step of problem solving. We expect ourselves to be able to “handle it all” and we set the expectations too high to reach. This can lead to anxiety, depression, and insecurity in our own ability to cope.
Kristin Neff explained the role of our judgmental selves in her book Self-Compassion: “The pain caused by self-judgment is so strong that we get lost in the role of the self-critic. And sometimes it is more comfortable to be in the role of the critic because the critic isn’t the one who is messed up.”
Self-criticism and beating ourselves up all of the time is not making us better people, it is making us feel insecure and inadequate. We can stop this by treating ourselves with the same kindness, caring, and compassion that we would show a good friend, a child, or even a stranger.
If you find yourself thinking that your self-judgment keeps you on your toes and keeps you motivated to do “better”, it may be time to really look at that theory. Self-esteem is actually based on the feedback we receive from others and it uses self-judgment as a way to lecture us into what we think others would expect.
Self-compassion steps in where self-esteem lets us down- when we fail or feel inadequate. Self-compassion teaches us to accept ourselves regardless of the amount of praise or feedback we receive from others. Self-esteem only thrives when the feedback from others is positive.
People are often afraid of compassion because they think they need self-criticism to keep themselves in line and to motivate themselves to succeed. However, Neff points out that motivation by self-criticism, which is actually born out of fear of failure, doesn’t work. Self-criticism leads to a loss of faith in oneself and a perceived lack of confidence and competence which is an important factor in people’s continuing to try. Without the perception that success is possible, one doesn’t even try due to a fear of failure. Often, we become attached to our self-criticism because it allows us the illusion of control. Self-compassion provides the emotionally supportive environment needed for change and growth simply by planting seeds of acceptance.
Self-compassion is correlated with higher levels of happiness and is associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression, lower levels of cortisol, increased heart rate variability, less rumination and perfectionism, and less fear of failure. Self-compassion is also associated with better coping with stressors and pain.
It sounds like we could all use a little more self-compassion doesn’t it?
In the coming week, try being your own friend and giving the inner critic a break for a bit. Acknowledge when things are difficult before jumping right into the lecture and the problem solving. See how it feels to treat yourself as you would a good friend. My guess is that it will feel pretty damn good.
You know I will be right here trying along with you.
Chat again soon,