Be kind to yourself
Beating yourself up doesn’t work – here’s what does
We’re taught from a young age that it is really important to have high self-esteem, that we should think we are good at things. So when things go wrong who do we blame? Ourselves of course! Because that’s a way to feel in control of things and feel like we can do better next time. BUT doing this to ourselves can actually make things worse..
Do you ever tell yourself how terrible you look today? Do you beat yourself up if you make a mistake? Do you hold yourself responsible for all the bad things that happen to you? Do you think this helps you and would you treat your closest friend like that? We thought not! The good news is that there’s a better way.
Why you should be compassionate to yourself
People who have a kinder, gentler approach to themselves are better able to cope with hard times and do better next time; they might not always be 100% happy with themselves but they don’t criticize themselves for the normal problems of everyday life.
To think about how to be self-compassionate, think about what it means to treat another person compassionately then turn it in on yourself. Compassion involves the desire to MINIMISE THE SUFFERING of others. Self-compassionate people treat themselves in the same caring, kind and supportive ways that compassionate people treat their friends and family when they are struggling.
When we are upset about something, our reactions come from three places
- The problem and the things about it that have negative consequences for ourselves.
“I failed the test! I’m going to have to tell my mum/ resit/ do more study/ miss that party!”
- Our ideas about how we are going to emotionally cope with these problems,
“I. Can’t. Even.”
- Blame and guilt for the role we played in the problem.
“This is all my fault, I messed up again!”
People often experience much more stress when they believe that the problem happened because of mistakes they made. Figuring out responsibility can be helpful but people often go beyond a fair assessment and start blaming, criticizing and punishing themselves.
Here’s why you should be compassionate with yourself instead:
- It can reduce the initial freak out by helping us soothe ourselves, just as we might soothe someone else with concern and kindness, “Everybody fails sometimes, you have had a lot on your plate!”
- It means we are more optimistic about our ability to cope, so we won’t think “I can’t deal with this!” and psych ourselves out.
- We won’t be cruel to ourselves and increase our distress. “I’ve never been any good at math, I am stupid, and I’m going to fail the whole year because of this.”
Self-compassion has been proved in studies to help with
- The pain experienced from break ups.
- Physical suffering, pain and sickness
- Test anxiety and good grades in the face of stress
And these are just the areas that people have focused on in formal studies, benefits from being self- compassionate can be helpful in all of the hardships life brings.
It also means thinking clearly about the choices you made and if they really were responsible the consequences you faced. Often when someone has been abused physically or sexually they find ways to blame themselves (“I shouldn’t have been drinking/ been out so late”) but these kinds of actions NEVER give anyone else the right to take advantage of someone else, so being compassionate to yourself in the face of abuse means protecting yourself from victim blaming, the way you would stand up for a friend.
How to be more self-compassionate starting today
The good news we can learn how to do this.
- Start noticing times when you are not being nice to yourself. Are you saying unkind things to yourself? Do you punish yourself when things go wrong?
- When you catch yourself doing this, ask why? Does it help? Ask yourself how bad you need to feel for it to help motivate yourself to make change in the future. A little bit of self-criticism can go a long way, no need to heap it on!
- If something bad happens remind yourself that everyone fails, misbehaves, is rejected, experiences loss, and feels all the bad feelings at some point, and that while it doesn’t feel OK there’s nothing unusual or personal in what happened.
- Learn to cultivate self-kindness. You can do this no matter how you feel about yourself, it is much easier to treat yourself nicely then think of yourself positively (but hopefully one will feed the other!).
Self-compassion doesn’t totally protect you from the struggles of everyday life, but it can be an antidote for the cruelty we sometimes turn in on ourselves. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were as nice to ourselves as we were to other people!