As humans, we can be awfully hard on ourselves. On the one hand, we have an inner champion that supports and encourages our every success, but we also have a harsh inner critic that can be our own worst enemy. It’s critical of how we look, think and feel, judges our perceived mistakes and inadequacies, and finds fault when we fall short of expectations, no matter how unrealistic they may be. This side of us can be crippling, and cause us much suffering.
We tend to carry a deep-seated conviction that self-judgment is an effective strategy for self-improvement, but research shows it does not work that way. Rather than help us achieve our goals, self-criticism undermines our ability to thrive, and makes us more emotional and less likely to learn from our mistakes. Attending to ourselves with compassion is a much more helpful way to respond.
Self-compassion loosens the grip of the inner critic so that we can live life with greater happiness and ease. It’s not contingent upon what we accomplish, but is instead an ongoing practice of offering unconditional kindness to ourselves no matter what, just as we would do for a valued friend. Rather than piling on harsh judgments, we meet ourselves with gentleness and warmth, and the desire to ease our own suffering. According to Dr. Kristin Neff, author of “Self-Compassion” and founder of the Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) program, self-compassion can lead to greater resilience, more caring relationship behavior, and less reactivity and anger.
Undoing a lifetime of self-criticism doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, practice and patience. Most importantly, it requires mindfulness of the thoughts and feelings that undermine our sense of wellbeing. It’s only by becoming aware of our negative self-talk and the harm is causes that we can begin to choose compassion instead.
So try a little tenderness. According to Christopher Germer, co-founder of MSC, “A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”
If you’d like to evaluate your capacity for self-compassion, take this short quiz by Dr. Neff.
Kathy Simpson is a freelance writer with Copper Beech Institute who specializes in mindful living and holistic health.
To learn the life-changing practice of self-compassion for yourself, we invite you to explore the eight-week courses in Mindful Self-Compassion and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction that will be offered at Copper Beech Institute beginning January 2017.