This Year, Resolve to Be Kinder to Yourself

Young adult with hair tied back in ponytail looks down at folded hands, seeming worriedMy specialty is working with women who struggle with anxiety. Many people come to me because their anxiety has started to interfere with their day-to-day living. They describe getting caught up in the negative loop of self-judgment; when they perceive that they’ve made a mistake or done something wrong, they can’t stop thinking about it. They think about what they could have done differently and put themselves down for the perceived infraction. Those negative thoughts make them feel bad, so they continue to think about what happened, hoping that next time they’ll get it right.

Fortunately, practicing self-compassion helps them break the cycle of self-criticism.

When Your Go-To Response Is “It’s My Fault”

Why are we so quick to blame ourselves? Women, at least many of us, judge ourselves way harder than we would ever judge another person. We expect perfection from ourselves but forgive or allow imperfection in others.

We’ve all experienced how making a small mistake, saying the wrong thing, or forgetting something can make us feel bad about ourselves for much too long. But doesn’t everyone make mistakes? I often ask people in the therapy room, “Does beating yourself up make you feel better?” The reality is it usually makes them feel worse. It doesn’t inspire them to be perfect; it just leaves them feeling defeated and unmotivated.

Why Are We So Hard on Ourselves?

So why do we continue to be our own worst enemies? What purpose does that negative, critical voice serve? Many people in therapy feel like it keeps them on track, or they believe it will keep them from making future mistakes. But when we dig deep, they can often identify that voice as a critical parent, caregiver, partner, or coach who used criticism as a way to motivate or punish.

Over time, those stories you heard about your faults became your own. You owned them, internalizing them so they felt true. But through therapy, you come to recognize the stories as just that—merely stories that someone else assigned to you. Stories you can choose to let go of and no longer hold as true.

Self-Compassion Isn’t Selfish

Self-criticism usually stems from our deep-seated fears, like fear of failure, disappointment, or abandonment. Our inner critic believes that constantly reminding us of our faults will keep those fears from becoming reality. Instead, what usually happens is that listening to the critical voice makes us feel anxious and depressed.

Start to notice when you’re hard on yourself. Listen to the way you talk to yourself and ask if you’d talk to a friend in the same way. Doing this can highlight just how tough you can be toward yourself.

When exploring how to quiet the inner critic with people in therapy, I suggest using a more self-compassionate voice. But self-compassion is often confused with selfishness or self-indulgence. People will often say, “If I give myself a pass for my mistakes, then I’ll keep screwing things up.” Or, “If I’m listening and comforting myself, then that’s just selfish.”

But self-compassion is about offering yourself the same compassion you’d offer a friend, family member, or stranger. It’s finding the voice within us that can recognize that we’re imperfect, and the ability to love both the imperfections and the perfections. Self-compassion acknowledges we’re human, just like everyone else!

Dr. Kristin Neff describes self-compassion this way: “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings—after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”

Can Self-Compassion Really Help?

Research has shown that people who practice self-compassion are more likely to be more optimistic, happier, and more satisfied with their lives. They ruminate less—that is, they don’t dwell on negative thoughts. They have less anxiety and stress, and have more positive feelings about their bodies.

Self-compassion isn’t about ignoring or pushing away negative thoughts when they pop up. It’s about being more understanding and compassionate with yourself when they do surface. That leads you to feeling better about yourself, creating less negative self-talk, being more accepting of yourself, and having a greater ability to put things in perspective.

Getting Started with Self-Compassion

The first step toward bringing more self-compassion into your life is recognizing when your critical voice shows up and how it expresses itself. Start to notice when you’re hard on yourself. Listen to the way you talk to yourself and ask if you’d talk to a friend in the same way. Doing this can highlight just how tough you can be toward yourself.

Next, when you notice you’re beating yourself up, try asking yourself what you might say to a friend who was struggling. If you respond in a kinder, more compassionate voice, try offering yourself those same words.

Self-compassion takes a lot of practice. Your first attempts might not feel genuine if you’re used to being hard on yourself. If you find you’re unable to come up with something to say, you can start by imagining what a good friend might say to you if they knew you were struggling. Offer those words to yourself and see if you don’t start to notice a break in the cycle of negative self-talk. Then, you can start to feel better about your whole self.

If you would like guidance and support in becoming more self-compassionate, contact a licensed therapist in your area.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, safe new year filled with love, light, and self-compassion!

References:

  1. Neff, K. D. (2017). The three elements of self-compassion. Retrieved from http://self-compassion.org
  2. Neff, K. D., & Germer, C. (2017). Self-compassion and psychological wellbeing. In J. Doty (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science, (371-386). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, therapist in Annapolis, Maryland

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.

  • 8 comments
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  • Miki

    Miki

    January 5th, 2018 at 11:13 AM

    The cycle of anxiety is easy to get trapped in. Much to think about here!

  • Elizabeth Cush, LCPC

    Elizabeth Cush, LCPC

    January 6th, 2018 at 5:25 AM

    see my comment below :)

  • Helen M

    Helen M

    January 5th, 2018 at 11:30 AM

    Wow, anxiety can be so insidious- I would know, ha! I really get the part about not letting up on yourself to try to prevent future mistakes, because it becomes almost superstitious. Loving that you guys are promoting self-compassion. Harder to do than it sounds, but worth it.

  • Elizabeth Cush, LCPC

    Elizabeth Cush, LCPC

    January 6th, 2018 at 5:24 AM

    Helen- Self-compassion is harder than is sounds, for sure! Many of us aren’t taught how to do it, so it takes practice to change old patterns of behavior, which isn’t easy. Thanks for your comment!

  • Elizabeth Cush, LCPC

    Elizabeth Cush, LCPC

    January 6th, 2018 at 5:21 AM

    Miki- thanks for your comment! Anxiety can make us feel trapped but practicing self-compassion can create some openings.

  • Norine VanderHooven

    Norine VanderHooven

    January 8th, 2018 at 6:36 PM

    What a great article. I will definitely be sharing this with my clients. I often talk about self-compsssion with them. You do a wonderful job of explaining why it’s important, why it’s not selfish, and why women often struggle with it.

  • Elizabeth Cush, LCPC

    Elizabeth Cush, LCPC

    January 9th, 2018 at 3:20 AM

    Norine, Thanks for your thoughtful comments! And thank you for sharing it!

  • Rachel B

    Rachel B

    January 9th, 2018 at 9:01 AM

    Self-compassion is so important and I think often the concept doesn’t even come into our minds. Thank you for bringing awareness to this topics and ideas of how to practice showing self-compassion.

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