Having Trouble Getting Unstuck? Find Self-Compassion

young women enjoying sunshineFeeling stuck is hard. You want to move forward, but you can’t find the motivation to change. Or perhaps you don’t know how to change! Even in therapy, the very place you expect to see growth, you end up spinning your wheels. Nothing seems to be working, and you begin to wonder how you will ever make progress.

What do you say to yourself when you are mired in uncertainty and disappointment? Do you call yourself a failure, stupid, or worthless? Do you question the value of your dreams or life in general? Or do you offer yourself patience and kindness?

When you feel stuck in life, how you treat yourself makes all the difference. Think about how you would talk to someone who struggles to make change. In particular, think about how you might talk to a hurt child. My hope is you would offer comfort and encouragement rather than harsh criticism.

This is the key to getting unstuck: getting compassionate. With yourself!

Recognize the Impact of Negative Self-Talk

If you already feel discouraged, imagine how defeated you will feel if you continue to beat yourself up. You probably have a voice inside your head that reminds you of every mistake you’ve made and how much you should have done by now. Let’s call that voice your inner critic. It bullies you into believing you’re incompetent or pathetic and keeps you from seeing yourself as capable and worthwhile. It has a very narrow outlook on you and your life. It sees things in extremes—everything is black and white, good or bad, perfect or awful. Your inner critic’s perspectives tend to be unrealistic and inaccurate versions of the truth. If you continue to listen to this voice, you will stay stuck.

Stop Punishing Yourself

When you buy into your inner critic’s lies, you choose to believe you don’t deserve love and respect. Naturally, you begin to act on this belief by choosing not to take care of yourself. At best, you stop eating healthy foods, exercising, and spending time with friends. At worst, you indulge in alcohol, drugs, or risky sexual behaviors. You punish yourself for not being what your inner critic demands you to be. You may begin to experience depression and anxiety, which have a tendency to feed into your inner critic’s belief system, which can lead to more of these self-destructive behaviors. You must stop the cycle.

Get Compassionate

Stopping the cycle of self-abuse and getting unstuck relies on your willingness to be kind, loving, and patient with yourself. Often the reasons you have not moved forward are buried beneath a host of unreasonable expectations. The more you push yourself and feed into your inner critic’s way of thinking, the less likely you are to uncover the true obstacles to your growth. It’s like building a house of cards. The cards appear structured and stable; they create a promising image of strength and upward movement. Yet the smallest upset or lightest breeze will send it tumbling to the ground. You need materials and a foundation that will stand the test of time. I suggest you start with compassion.

Slow Down

You’ve already realized that berating yourself isn’t getting you where you want to go, nor is it revealing the next step on your journey. When you’re unsure of your next move, allow yourself to slow down. Don’t worry about that next step until you’ve offered yourself a little compassion. Tell yourself that you want to be on the path to healing but that something is getting in your way. Reassure yourself that once you understand what is keeping you stuck, you will do everything in your power to remove that obstacle and get your life back on track. Remind yourself that you are worthy of love, even if things aren’t progressing the way you want right now. Instill in yourself the belief that you are capable of the change you desire, and spend some time with this new belief. Repeat it. Let it offer you confidence and a sense of well-being. You’ve got this!

Take Care of Yourself

Sometimes, slowing down is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It might make you feel like you’re not doing enough right now. Notice the discomfort, but don’t react to it. Instead, treat yourself to a much-deserved act of self-care. Prepare a healthy meal. Exercise, dance, or move around in any way you like. Listen to your favorite music. Read a book. Go outside. Do something that feels good to you but isn’t harmful. Nourish yourself to nurture your motivation to keep going.

Get Unstuck

Once you ground yourself in the wisdom that you are capable of change and that you deserve a good life, you can begin doing the work that will lead you to your goals. Compassion is just the beginning, but it opens the door to a new way of experiencing yourself and the world. You can use your compassion as a safety net for when things go wrong and as a jumping-off point to propel you forward with confidence. Change is a process, and failure is a necessary part of it. Keeping your inner critic at bay will help you create reasonable expectations and view your mistakes as invaluable learning opportunities rather than character-defining flaws. You will view the world with curiosity and excitement rather than dread or fatalism. Treating yourself with loving kindness will allow you to cherish the small victories you might have missed along the way. You will gain the clarity to see how far you’ve come and the wisdom to recognize how limitless you really are.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Shameela Keshavjee, MS, LMFT-S, Young Adult Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Andria

    February 11th, 2015 at 3:39 PM

    It always seems to be so much easier to find compassion for others that it is to find compassion for ourselves. We spend a whole lot of time beating ourselves up, most of the time for things that we have little control over. What we should be doing instead is focusing on the good, not the bad, see what we are and what we have instead of what we don’t and what we perceive that we have failed at.

  • alex

    February 12th, 2015 at 3:36 AM

    Isn’t it enough that we have to listen to others put us down? We don’t need to hear that in ourselves too

  • Barry

    February 12th, 2015 at 9:09 AM

    Beating myself up over things like this seems to be a favorite pastime of mine sigh….

  • Shameela Keshavjee, MS, LMFT-S

    February 12th, 2015 at 2:23 PM

    It’s so very common for self-punishment and self-criticism to be the norm rather than self-compassion. Just like anything new, we have to practice self-compassion so that it becomes our default behavior. I have found it useful to think about kindness or compassion in general – how it looks when you’re kind to others, when others are kind to you. Spending time contemplating the concept of kindness can allow it to filter into your awareness so that you can eventually begin exercising it on yourself!

  • Flor

    February 12th, 2015 at 3:00 PM

    I feel like I am in a constant battle with my thoughts but they are much stronger than me. Every single word in this article spoke to me and most are things I already know. However, my inner critic just told that I can’t do it that
    I won’t get unstuck, that I am lazy, and broken

  • Kane

    February 13th, 2015 at 11:09 AM

    is it too simplistic to feel that much of this is going to be about breaking those bad habits that we have perpetuated and created over time?

  • Shameela Keshavjee, MS, LMFT-S

    February 13th, 2015 at 1:00 PM

    Honestly, no, I don’t think that’s too simplistic at all – I think it’s a great way of viewing the practice of self-compassion. The concept is simple – the act of breaking old habits and creating new ones is anything but! It takes time, but it’s worth the effort.

  • Shayne

    February 16th, 2015 at 5:23 AM

    I don’t think that most of us realize the negative impact of the way that we talk to ourselves and the things that this can do to us over time… we think that we are being honest with ourselves but there is so much harm that can come from being a little too brutal even when you are talking to yourself.
    Stop and ask if you would say something like this to someone else, and if not then you should recognize that you shouldn’t talk to yourself in this way either.

  • Kim F.

    March 27th, 2015 at 3:21 PM

    What a great article. I totally agree! Self-compassion is absolutely essential for healthy, balanced living. It provides huge benefits including emotional resiliency, stress reduction, contentment, and healthier relationships. Without it we are vulnerable to the opinions of others and find it difficult to deal with and let go of our mistakes. Thanks so much for this great post!

  • Jennifer D

    April 5th, 2015 at 6:02 PM

    I found this so helpful, I struggle with negative self talk all the time, and I have anxiety. I am a mom to a child with autism. I don’t like how I doubt myself, my ability. I want to be more confident, for me and my daughter. How do I go about it? I write poetry, but it’s good and bad poems. It’s where I feel safest to talk..

  • Bill

    April 20th, 2015 at 7:54 PM

    This makes me even less likely to go to a therapist when I hear that she is still spinning her wheels. I feel like it’s a choice between dredging it all up and getting no relief or living with it and getting no relief.

  • Sara

    April 2nd, 2016 at 8:47 PM

    Hi, Bill, your comment prompted me to share the following. My own experience in therapy has shown me that yes, it is vitally important that one’s therapist already enacts in his/her own life the same abilities and growth that they encourage in the client. Actual experience is the best way to validate and reinforce and encourage what, for the client, still remains new, unknown, and untested. So it is indeed important that the client already have developed competency and even mastery of the life issue the client is facing. My awareness of my own therapist’s efficacy in his life and relationships – within the boundaries of our professional relationship, of course – was an important part of me believing I can be happier and trying harder at getting well.

    At the same time, precisely because my therapist has struggled, he was able to emapthize with my stuckness and even enlarge my understanding of my stuckness. So it is a balance. Obe wants a therapist who has accomplished this in his/her own life, and yet has struggled with it in such a way that he/she can still remember what it was like and use the memory that former struggle to support you. This is what makes good therapy a bit of a rare find, but when you find it, it is gold.

  • Kim Fredrickson, MFT

    April 20th, 2015 at 10:25 PM

    Jennifer…thanks so much for being real about your understandable struggles. Being a mom to a child with autism is not easy…but is doable. There is no reason you should know how to “do this”…you’ve never done this before and it is normal to be on a learning curve. A compassionate thing you might say to yourself is…on the one hand I feel insecure and question myself…on the other hand I love my daughter, and am learning a lot about how to parent her effectively. This is a rough road, and I am doing a great job. I don’t have to have it all figured out right now.

    I write on self-compassion, because it is so essential…especially for getting through the tough times in life. Best Wishes to you and your daughter. You are already making a huge difference in her life!

  • Shameela Keshavjee, MS, LMFT-S

    April 21st, 2015 at 6:11 AM

    It’s great to read so many thoughtful comments. Each of you is thinking about how self-compassion fits into your own life and how it could work specifically for you. Practicing self-compassion, just like going to a therapist, takes a great deal of effort and patience. I think once you’re ready to make change – and you do have to be ready – you won’t be spinning your wheels for long. You’ll realize that is just part of the process that will get you where you need to go. So much of it rests on your beliefs about how change happens and whether you’re worth the effort. If we can work with our beliefs and create realistic expectations, I think anything is possible.

  • Joanna

    July 14th, 2015 at 12:41 PM

    Very good and encouraging article to read with very useful suggestions to learn and follow. It is very important to learn how to be self-compassionate, by doing that we learn how to be more patient and understanding towards other people.

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