Relationships and interactions with friends, families, colleagues, neighbors and community are what enrich our lives. It’s important to take time to cultivate and maintain these relationships, but it’s even more important to take actions that nurture the relationship you have with yourself. Begin tending to this relationship by using self-compassion.
Self-compassion is recognizing that everyone, including yourself, is a human being who deserves kindness and understanding instead of abuse or criticism. We put so much pressure on ourselves to accomplish every task on each day’s to-do list without breaking a sweat, and we get down on ourselves if we don’t make it happen. We cut everyone else slack but hold ourselves to an impossibly high standard. If this sounds familiar then it’s time to begin a self-compassion practice.
Practicing self-compassion through positive self-talk
To bring compassion back into your own, inner life, start with your self-talk. Too often we berate ourselves for our perceived flaws, and compare ourselves and our lives to others and ensure that we come up short. By talking to yourself with more positivity and love, you can improve your general mood and outlook on life, as well as your relationships with others.
If you say things to yourself like “Ugh, I’m so fat/stupid/clumsy”; “I’m not good enough to land that client”; “I’m a mess, I’ll never look as good as she does,” eventually you will start to believe this nonsense, and it will not only make you feel awful and demoralized, dreading each day, but this negativity will seep into and taint all your other relationships. Your relationships with others can never be better or brighter than your baseline, than your belief in your own worthiness and quality. Think of the saying, “You can’t give what you don’t have.”
For many, negative self-talk has been so ingrained in our lives that we barely notice it. So to start your self-compassion practice, take notice of your inner dialogue. What kinds of words and feelings arise when you make a mistake, feel overwhelmed or feel insecure? If there is negativity, simply pause, take a deep breath and replace that thought with something positive. Imagine you’re talking to a friend, or to your child, and only self-speak as you would to that person.
Would you tell your child he’s too lazy to reach his goals? Would you tell your best friend she’s stupid for missing an appointment? Would you verbally abuse your mother for gaining five pounds? No, you wouldn’t. You would encourage your child (and anyone else’s child) to succeed! You would be sympathetic toward your friend and tell her that everyone makes mistakes, and you certainly wouldn’t make your mom feel bad about a little weight fluctuation. So remember this: If your internal dialogue is not fit for a friend or loved one, it’s not fit for you.
Practicing self-compassion as a daily habit
Negative self-talk is a habit, and like any bad habit, it takes mindfulness, applied over time, to change. The practice of self-compassion is not a “one and done” thing, that’s why it’s called practice. As you practice replacing negative self-talk with self-compassion it will get easier, but you must keep doing it, every time you find yourself engaging in negative self-talk. Like working your muscles, if you stop, the negativity will creep back in and your self-compassion will atrophy over time.
To keep your self-compassion practice robust, I think it’s helpful to write down positive, truthful quotes or sayings that resonate with you, and keep them in your workspace, in the car, your purse, on the bathroom mirror, anywhere you’ll see them throughout the day. When you’re feeling worn down and have a hard time mustering the positivity, read, internalize and believe them. Some examples of quotes I keep around are:
- “You, yourself, as much as anyone in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection,” Buddha
- “It’s not your job to like me—it’s MINE.” Byron Katie, author of “The Work”
- “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Theodore Roosevelt, 26th U.S. President
- “Never say anything about yourself that you don’t want to come true.” Brian Tracy, personal development and business coach
- “If your compassion does not include yourself—it is incomplete.” Jack Kornfield, mindfulness author and teacher
No one’s perfect, and everyone (including you!) deserves love and understanding. So be kind to yourself. Talk to and treat yourself the same way you would others, and your confidence will grow, your daily moods will improve and your relationships will blossom.
Some self-compassion resources for further study:
Brené Brown, shame and vulnerability researcher, author of Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection: http://brenebrown.com
Negar Fonooni, fitness, nutrition and life coach: http://www.negharfonooni.com
Byron Katie, creator of The Work method of self-inquiry: http://thework.com
Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion researcher: http://self-compassion.org
**This article was originally published in Queen of the Castle magazine on August 1, 2015.**