I don’t know about you, sometimes I love myself but I don’t like myself. I know I have slipped into the discontent-with-myself-zone when I am craving a lot of comfort from outside stimuli (i.e. food, sex, relationships). I recently did a little reverse engineering as to how I got to this place of strong dislike for myself. What I found out is that it usually happens when I meet the parts of myself I’m not proud of with judgement and too much tough love. It’s when I try to shame myself to change. Just me? Okay cool.
I have heard different feedback about this idea of tough love, so for the sake of clarity and succinctness, I am referring to the kind of tough love that is about guilt and shaming. It does not mean lack of accountability. For example- If I messed up a presentation and did not give all the information accurately- me using tough love on myself would look like: “Damn, Kelly. That really sucked. What were you thinking trying to make changes. You can’t even give a good presentation.”
A way more impactful, and quite frankly a more pleasant approach, is self-compassion. Dr. Kristin is the fairy godmother of this concept of self-compassion. She defines it as “being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.”
A study was done by Harvard Health that found people who practice self-compassion have less anxiety and related depression. Unlike self-deprecation, self-compassion allows objectivity, curiosity, and self-awareness. It is an anchor for us when our inner critic can take us away. It is our greatest ally in enjoying the process of getting to where we want to go. Cheers to the journey of self compassion.
Self-compassion is not based on self-evaluation
Self-compassion is not self pity or based on self-esteem. When we fall into self-pity, we become very egocentric and are not able to see anyone else outside of ourselves. When we sit in self-pity, we are just stuck. Self-compassion pulls us out from that space.
Whether you feel great or awful about yourself, you can be met with compassion. “In contrast to self-esteem, self-compassion is not based on self-evaluations. People feel compassion for themselves because all human beings deserve compassion and understanding, not because they possess some particular set of traits (pretty, smart, talented, and so on). This means that with self-compassion, you don’t have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself. Self-compassion also allows for greater self-clarity, because personal failings can be acknowledged with kindness and do not need to be hidden.” Every human deserves compassion and to be seen in their full humanity.
When we meet ourselves with compassion, we are seeing ourselves in our full humanity rather than just that moment. So when we make a mistake or are not happy with ourselves, we can still love ourselves and be kind; knowing we are whole, lovable human beings, flaws and all.
For example, you hurt your partner’s feelings with something you are said in the heat of the moment. You feel really bad about it and begin to beat yourself up. You begin to spiral into many self-criticizing demeaning thoughts- how could I let myself say that? What’s wrong with me? Do I even deserve love? My partner is too good for me.
You are not a bad partner or undeserving of love because you said something you regretted. That was one snapshot and a learning experience. A way to meet yourself with compassion in this moment is to step back, breathe, and remind yourself that you were responding from hurt. Then begin to ask yourself, where is this hurt coming from? Why did what my partner said hit such a sensitive area for me? What can I give myself right now?
Once you create this space for self-compassion, you have the capacity for curiosity. And then you are able to come back to your partner from a grounded place- from self-awareness and self-love.
A few different ways to get in the habit of incorporating more self compassion
Reflect on some examples where you have met yourself with a lot of criticism and then felt shame.
Write down how you responded to yourself. Now picture your best friend. Imagine them telling you they did, said, thought what you did. Now write down you would respond to them. What are the main differences. Then write down how things would change if you responded to yourself the way you did your friend when you were suffering.
Change your critical self-talk
Your self-critical voice is so common for you that you don’t even notice when it is present. Whenever you’re feeling bad about something, think about what you’ve just said to yourself. Try to be as accurate as possible, noting your inner speech verbatim. What words do you actually use when you’re self-critical? Are there key phrases that come up over and over again? What is the tone of your voice – harsh, cold, angry? Does the voice remind you of any one in your past who was critical of you? You want to be able to get to know the inner self-critic very well, and to become aware of when your inner judge is active. For instance, if you’ve just eaten half a box of Oreo’s, does your inner voice say something like “you’re so disgusting” or “you make me sick”? Really try to get a clear sense of how you talk to yourself.” Make an active effort to soften the self-critical voice, but do so with compassion rather than self-judgment. Then Reframe the observations made by your inner critic in a friendly, positive way.
Keep a self-compassion journal for a week or so
Sometimes when things are happening in the moment, our critical voice is such a normal part of us, we don’t even recognize her. At the end of the day, take some time to reflect on areas where you judged yourself and then how you felt afterwards. How can you meet yourself with self-compassion now? Doing this exercise will help you become more conscious when you are meeting yourself with self-judgement rather than compassion throughout your day.