Being Kind to Yourself
“Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.”
― Brene Brown
“You are so stupid!”
“Everyone hates you.”
“You are worthless!”
“You are such a loser.”
“You aren’t good enough.”
I’ve heard these sayings for a long time. It was common for me to hear them regularly and, in fact, I heard them so much I believed it every time. It was so ingrained in me that when I would mess up, I was just waiting for them to be said.
But none of it came from others. It was my internal dialogue I had about myself and the situations which I was involved in. It was the negative self-talk in which we many of us engage. That was how I talked to myself.
I wasn’t practicing self-compassion no matter the issue. I would beat myself up for the smallest of mistakes and gave up on things because I knew I could never achieve them. This negative self-talk and self-criticism kept me from life, both personally and professionally. It kept me in a place of darkness and self-loathing, and it made me hate who I was.
I was my own worst enemy, and it’s hard to win against yourself when you constantly criticize the person who needs to be helped the most. Talking bad to myself became a habit and made me miserable. I became used to the constant berating and I ended up believing every part. I know many of you do the same thing.
But the good thing is I changed the way I treated myself, and I started practicing self-compassion. And it is something you can do too.
According to Professor Golan Shahar of Ben-Gurion University, self-criticism can be debilitating. Based on over two decades of research, “self-criticism is characterized by (1) an uncompromising demand for high standards in performance and (2) an expression of hostility and derogation toward the self when these high standards are, inevitably, not met.”
And when we self-criticize, it is usually that voice in our heads that drowns out everything else which is rational. We can’t be kind to ourselves because of that little voice. It’s loud and always seems to be right because we confirm it over and over when we mess up.
But I realized that voice was just that—a voice. It was just my thoughts in my head, and those thoughts weren’t true. I made them up because I didn’t know how to be kind to myself. I didn’t know how to allow myself to screw up occasionally. I aimed for perfection even though I knew it wasn’t possible.
So I started to recognize when that voice came. I began to understand I’m not perfect and I will make mistakes. I will say the wrong thing and I will make errors whether it be at work or with others. That’s normal. I’m normal. I realized I needed to have compassion for myself like I do for others and there is absolutely no reason to tell myself these negative things.
I understand now I need to be supportive of myself like I would be with my friends. I would never say any of those negative things to my friends so why would I say them to myself? I had to learn to give myself a break. I did this by learning about and practicing self-compassion.
“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”
– Christopher K. Germer
The author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, Dr. Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as having three elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
- Self-Kindness (loving)—instead of beating ourselves up with self-criticism, negative self-talk or ignoring our pain, we should be warm to ourselves when we fail or make a mistake. We accept, soothe, and comfort ourselves.
- Common Humanity (connected)—realizing we are all part of a shared human experience allows us to recognize we are not alone. We all go through pain, and while that pain may be different, the basic experience of suffering is the same.
- Mindfulness (presence)—being aware of our thoughts, emotions, and sensations, and not avoiding or resisting them. It’s an acknowledgment of the suffering and responding with kindness.
By practicing these three things when we find ourselves in that cycle of self-criticism, we learn to embrace our imperfections and become self-compassionate. We allow an understanding of our faults and see our mistakes as something which is normal. We treat ourselves as we would a good friend—with love and compassion.
When we practice self-compassion, we can relate to who we are and realize it is ever-changing. And when we become friends with ourselves, we can finally be kind with that inner voice. So I am now a friend to myself regardless of my mistakes and flaws. It’s who I am. It’s who we all are. We are all perfectly imperfect.
I’ve learned I am allowed to be kind to myself. You are allowed to as well.