What might change in your life if you were to relate to yourself and your shortcomings with greater acceptance and kindness? Does the prospect of living this way bring you hope, scare you, or both?
If you responded with some hesitation, this reflects a common response to practicing self-compassion.
A recent client, who is a devout Christian, when asked where she could begin to relate to herself with greater kindness and acceptance stated that she didn’t even know what that would look like. Upon further exploration she identified a fear that she would start to gain weight if she lived this way.
I have found other clients associate fear with self-compassion; some speak of becoming less productive, not getting ahead in life, and becoming selfish if they lived this way.
Perhaps we see some benefits to our inner critic and fear that we might slide into apathy and problem behaviors if we didn’t criticize ourselves. There can be a level of attractiveness in being critical of oneself even when our experience points to greater suffering. Think of an area of your life where you are being hard on yourself and identify what emotions this brings up. What is that like? Is this leading you to greater peace and joy? Does this truly help you move in valued directions for your life?
Before going further, I should note that self-compassion is not about sidestepping responsibility for one’s actions. There is a difference between humbly acknowledging one’s failings, making amends, and delivering forms of self-attack regarding these choices.
Research continues to present convincing evidence as to the link between good mental health and those who practice self-compassion. Being hard on yourself is also bad for your physical health. It turns out that self-criticism is highly toxic to our bodies releasing a cascade of stress hormones that inflict damage.
Another important point coming from the research is that those with higher levels of self-compassion are actually more productive than those low in self-compassion. Interesting.
Paradoxically, becoming aware of your inner critic can lead to more self-criticism. Someone can beat themselves up for beating themselves up. Remember this: your inner critic has a way of showing up uninvited and is probably a learned behavior that at some stage in your life served a purpose.
Now the question is whether it is serving a purpose and what you will do about it. Change is possible.
Through the work of becoming more self-aware, choosing to let go, you can learn to tame this inner critic when it does show up and relate to yourself in a way that reflects more of who you really are – someone with intrinsic and immeasurable worth. Self-compassion is good for you and for those you love.
“When you encounter difficulties and contradictions do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time.” -St. Francis de Sales