By Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S
Compassion is valuable trait. Our society teaches us that compassion for others is paramount to being a “good person”. We should care for our fellow man, nurture our friends and family and sooth those in pain. As a general rule we are expected to be supportive and empathetic towards those around us. While many of us have mastered these skills in dealing with others, very rarely do we turn those techniques inwards and treat ourselves with the same level of care.
Instead we beat ourselves up and become our own worst enemies. There are few who can punish us as well as we can punish ourselves and we do so on a regular basis. Many of us don’t dare fall asleep without replaying all the events of the day and chastising ourselves for any perceived failures, embarrassments or weaknesses. We judge ourselves harshly and offer very little consolation in doing so. While this way of thinking never makes us feel any better we continue with the same negative statements day after day. Feeling worse and worse, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain a healthy self-image and optimistic outlook on the future.
Even when confronted with the fact that we treat ourselves so badly, many people will say that it is serving a purpose. Some feel that it is how they motivate themselves to “do better” or that they “deserve it” after they way they behaved. Truth is, what we so easily do to ourselves pushes us into a negative pattern that fosters depression and self-loathing rather than truly making us feel better or achieve our goals.
So how do we change these long ingrained and socially sanctioned behaviors? Honestly self love isn’t as easy as it may sound, it takes work as well as practice to be kind and compassionate to yourself. Here are some tips to get you started, but keep in mind that working with a professional therapist can also go a long way towards helping you develop and maintain healthy habits of self-care.
Listen to yourself
- The first step in ending negative self-talk is to notice that it is happening. Much of what we think is unconscious and automatic. Being aware of when you are telling yourself that you “aren’t good enough” is essential so that you can replace this self-defeating line of thinking and replace it with positive and caring phrases
Cut yourself a break
- It’s not enough to just realize you are beating yourself up, you have to change the behavior…this is where the hard part comes in. One way to cut yourself a break is to think of others. Would you ever say what you are saying to someone else? Would you ever tell them they aren’t good enough? Would you say “You are such a looser!”, “Wow you are the worst mom ever!”, “You will never be able to do that!”. Most likely you wouldn’t. Instead you would offer sympathy for the pain they are feeling. You would probably validate some of what they are going through. “That must have been so difficult for you.”, “Of course you were upset. Who wouldn’t be?”. You may offer them encouragement “It will be fine. Things always have a way of working out.” “You are incredibly smart and gifted. You’ll get it the next time.”
- Talk to yourself as you would a close friend. What would you say to someone who was feeling the way you are? What would tell your friend who was struggling? Use these same statements on yourself. Offer validation to yourself and your feelings just as you would a close friend. Give yourself the same compassionate statements you would to someone else. It may feel out of the ordinary, but that is the point. Over time you will notice a lightening in your pain. You may even realize that you are giving yourself exactly what you have been needing.
Put the gavel down..
- Put an end to the judgment of yourself and others. Now I realize this is one of America’s favorite past times, and we all love our Judge Judy and American Idol, but daily judgement of others isn’t doing us any good.
- Our culture thrives on fostering a competitive attitude. We all strive to be the best. Being the fastest, smartest, funniest, thinest, strongest (pretty much anything you can add an “ist” to) is very important. We may tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough unless we are “better” than others. Of course this is an impossible task that keeps satisfaction and fulfillment just out of reach.
- In an effort to be “more” we often feel the need to make those around us “less”. We judge others negatively so that we can feel better about ourselves. “You may be rich, but your unattractive.”, “Well of course you make good grades, you have no social life.” It can go on and on.
- While this may make us feel better about ourselves in the short term, it has a longer lasting negative effect on us that we often don’t realize. By judging others we assume they are also judging us in the same way. We feel that other people are always watching and judging us negatively. We begin to do the same thing to ourselves, making negative judgments more readily.
- To prevent those around us from ridiculing us out loud, we fall into the pattern of doing it for them. Kristin Neff PhD talks about why we do this to ourselves in her book “Self-Compassion”. Neff says “It’s as if we are saying, I’m going to beat you to the punch and criticize myself before you can. I recognize how flawed and imperfect I am so you don’t have to cut me down and tell me what I already know.”
- Unfortunately, this type of behavior doesn’t make us feel any better. Instead we are only reinforcing negative self-talk and our inability to accept that all humans are flawed and that is okay.
- Pain, suffering, weakness, and failures are part of the human condition we all share. While we put on a good face and pretend that we are “perfect” we aren’t. Watching others fain perfection through fake smiles and Facebook pages often leaves us feeling alone in our pain.
- Recognizing that these are emotions felt by everyone, we can begin to feel more connected to others and more likely to allow ourselves acceptance.
- Understanding that you are enough, just the way you are, is a powerful realization. You are a unique and special individual, deserving of the right to compassion and love.
- And if you though that was a difficult concept to wrap your head around here is an even harder one: There is nothing you can do to make yourself more or less deserving of these rights. That’s how birthrights work, thankfully. To qualify for the right to be happy, loved, cared for and valued all you have to be is you. Absolutely nothing else is required.
- Give yourself a mantra such as “I am enough” to remind yourself of those rights and combat negative self-talk. Repeat your mantra whenever you feel overwhelmed with negativity.
As I said in the beginning of this article such change can be challenging. We do not develop habits overnight and thus do not break them in that time frame. Working with a professional counselor who can offer unconditional positive regard in a safe and nurturing environment is incredibly helpful as you begin to make these profound changes in your thinking. Utilizing supportive friends and family, to help you see the positive and feel accepted is also of great benefit. Practicing self-compassion can bring about a new lease on life and offer you the fulfillment your birthright affords. Be your own best friend this Valentine’s Day and reap the benefits all year long.