As someone who has suffered from criticism, both from myself and others, especially regarding my illness, I have found it hard to be kind to myself and to not take the criticism personally. As I learnt to practise self-compassion, I have found peace and acceptance of the negative thoughts and I have learnt how to deal with them constructively. Self-compassion may be one of the hardest things you will ever learn, but it is so rewarding and this will become apparent once you stop the self-criticism and stop other people’s criticism from affecting you. This post was extremely hard to write, but I wanted to share it with you in the hope that while you are reading this you will be able to see the benefits of practising self-compassion and understand the true meaning behind it. I hope you enjoy reading this and you too can realise why you need to practise being kind to yourself.
We’re often told a saying when we’re kids, “treat others how you would want to be treated yourself”. But as we get older we seem to be begin to treat ourselves less kindly. So instead, try turning this sentence around to “treat yourself how you would treat others”. You would never say to a friend “you’re not clever enough to get that job”, or “you deserve to be ill” – so why have we started saying this to ourselves?
There will be periods in your life when your self-critical thoughts may become more dominant, such as times of low self-esteem, low confidence, illness, stress, break up, job loss or exam period. Having these thoughts circulating around in your head all day is going to have a significant impact on your well-being and mood. For some people, this inner criticism has become so automatic you might not even realise how often you are doing it. Learning self-compassion is an important mindfulness skill which will help you overcome these self-criticising thoughts. It means treating yourself kindly during times of stress and unhappiness, while remembering that pain, failure and struggle are part of the common human experience. All the while keep a mindful and balanced perspective on your situation and emotions.
By incorporating self-compassion, it will help you create a space within you that is free of judgment – to be able to observe your negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity. For example, say you’re caring for someone and you are having self-critical thoughts such as, “I can’t take time out for myself as that would be selfish”. By practising self-compassion, you will observe the fact you’re having negative thoughts and think “I am having thoughts of criticism”. This will help separate yourself from the emotion, you are not denying or supressing it, just simply observing the thought.
How can self-compassion help me?
- It will increase your confidence and self-esteem.
- Feelings of depression, anxiety and stress will reduce.
- You won’t fear failure anymore, instead you’ll see it as a chance to grow and learn.
- It will allow you to be kinder towards yourself in times of need, such as illness or pain.
- You will be more able to let go of feelings of perfectionism.
- It will help you become kinder and more compassionate to others.
- You will improve your well-being in general and become more positive.
Mythical Beliefs About Self-Compassion
- “I won’t be as motivated if I don’t criticise myself” – You might believe that by criticising yourself it will help you stay more motivated in life, and that without it you might become too easy on yourself, or even lazy. But self-compassion is not the same as being easy on ourselves, instead it’s a way of nurturing ourselves so that we can reach our full potential. Imagine you’re trying to finish a piece of work for school or your job which you’re finding hard, and your friend says to you, “You’re so stupid! You’re hopeless and it will never be any good!” – is that really going to motivate you? Probably not, instead you’re more likely to reach a point of giving up altogether. Now imagine if your friend said, “I know you’re finding it difficult, but I know you can do it and I’ll help you in any way that I can”. This compassionate approach is much more likely to give you the emotional resources to pick yourself up, and even if you fail you’re less likely to become upset at your failure as instead you’ll set new goals and try again.
- “Being self-compassionate is selfish” – You’re often told to put other people’s needs ahead of yourself, especially if you work in the caring profession, such as a doctor, nurse, therapist or even as a carer for a family member. You may feel guilty if you put your own needs first. However, by taking care of yourself, and by making sure you get enough sleep, eat well, and look after your own well-being, you are less likely to become irritable or argue with others. This will enable you to have more energy and patience to be compassionate and kinder to others.
- “Self-compassion is a form of self-pity” – You might believe that being self-compassionate means feeling sorry for yourself. But self-compassion is an antidote of self-pity, as it makes us more willing to accept, experience, and acknowledge difficult feelings with kindness, which helps us let go of them more fully. You are less likely to ruminate about how bad things are. For example, if you are diagnosed with an illness, you may think “why me”, “what did I do to deserve this”. By practising self-compassion, you will be more able to see difficulties as a part of life that everyone goes through, and take a more balanced view of the situation.
What if I don’t feel kind or compassionate towards myself?
Think of a time when you behaved nicely towards someone you were annoyed with and felt like they didn’t deserve it; perhaps you treated them nicely because you value treating people with decency and respect. If you value treating yourself in the same way, you’ll be able to practise the act of self-compassion regardless of the circumstances of how you are feeling at that moment. If you’re currently feeling like you don’t deserve compassion, remind yourself of these few things:
- Everyone makes mistakes, that’s a part of life.
- Remember emotions such as guilt and remorse are part of us. The emotions are there to motivate us to make amends, they are useful emotions if we handle them constructively. Mindfulness and self-compassion enable us to do this.
- If you are having thoughts such as “I don’t deserve compassion”, remember that this is just a thought. Thoughts aren’t necessarily correct, nor are they often helpful. Just observe this thought and any emotions as best you can without judgement.
- Remember the effect it has on others – If you invite a friend round for a coffee and cake, and your friend looks at the cake and says, “I can’t eat that as I am far too fat”, it’s likely that this comment will spoil your enjoyment of the cake as you might reflect these thoughts upon yourself. Young children and teenagers are most susceptible to these sorts of comments as they are still learning, trying to fit in, and be like everyone else. If they see or hear you criticising yourself, they might start to think this is normal and pick up this habit themselves.
If you’re a highly critical person, self-compassion may seem nearly impossible. It’s important to understand that self-compassion is a set of skills that anyone can practise. It takes time and practise, but hopefully now you’ll have the motivation and willingness to do it.
Come back on Sunday for “Part 2: 12 Ways to Practise Being Kind to Yourself”, to explore tips and ways to start becoming more compassionate towards yourself. Or subscribe to the blog to receive email notifications of the latest posts.
Metta, E xx