I used to be SO HARD on myself. I would set the bar high, and then jump over it. Anything less than the best was unacceptable. The world reflected back to me that this was a good thing.
I was ambitious. Driven. A high achiever.
I was praised and rewarded for believing those things, for being those things.
I had no idea that all the pushing and forcing and death gripping my way through life would prove to be unsustainable and lead me to some dark places.
I mean, in hindsight, it’s no wonder. But at the time? It was all I knew.
When you’re wrapped up in a lifetime of self-criticism-as-motivation, it can be nearly impossible to imagine something else. On some level, I think many of us believe that judgment (or fear of it) is the thing that gets us into action.
But that keeps you doing too much, resting too little, and kind of being a jerk to yourself in the meantime. Burnout central, amiright?
So I was so relieved to hear that there was another way of being that would actually take care of me as well as helping me take care of business.
Could it be that kindness is the key to sustaining our efforts?
Could self-compassion help me stop sabotaging myself and change my bad habits for good?
Could loving myself a little more give me the motivation I need without beating me up?
Short answer: YES.
To all of it.
In fact, mindful self-compassion is a practice that frees our minds from the trap of self-criticism (you know all that ruminating that keeps you up at night, reminding you of all the ways you fucked up this week, this month, or in your whole life?)
The key is unplugging from the cycle of shame that keeps us trying to prove ourselves and hide ourselves all at the same time.
Self-compassion has three main components:
Mindfulness is all about recognizing what you’re thinking as you’re thinking it, and recognizing what you’re feeling as you’re feeling it. Present moment awareness. For me, that means noticing when I’m beating myself up…and noticing how that doesn’t help. It actually creates resistance. Tension builds in my body, and I start to shut down. When I’m being hard on myself, it usually comes from being embarrassed, or disappointed, or feeling unworthy. So, in this context, mindfulness means sitting with those feelings instead of allowing my inner critic to bludgeon me and shame me with them.
Self-kindness is tougher than it sounds, I know. I’ve noticed that true empathy is difficult for many people. We’d rather skip over the hard feelings and paint a picture of a rosier future with which to distract ourselves. When I’m feeling unworthy, self-kindness doesn’t mean telling myself to cheer up. It means acknowledging that it’s hard to feel unworthy. It’s unpleasant. Simply naming that validates my feelings and helps me drop my armour.
Next comes common humanity. While our experiences on this planet are vastly different in their details, there are certain things we each encounter. Most people have moments of embarrassment. Most people know what it’s like to feel disappointed. Feeling unworthy from time to time is a very human thing. So, I recognize that I’m not alone in the struggle. We each have difficult feelings, and they’re….well, difficult.
These days, instead of drowning out my discomfort with a rant from my inner critic about all the things I should be doing better, and then feeling the discomfort of that, which leads me to avoid things or try to numb out or something else like that….instead of all of that, I turn towards my experience.
I notice what I’m thinking & feeling.
I recognize that it’s a natural part of the human experience.
And I show myself some kindness.
Kindness could sound like, “You’re doing a better job than you realize at navigating these challenges.” Or, “You’ve been working really hard. Why don’t you take a rest?” Or, “It’s ok to feel unworthy sometimes. You’re not alone.”
When I practice self-compassion, I stop getting stuck.
When I practice self-compassion, I tune into my humanity.
When I practice self-compassion, I am free.
And I’m also way more productive, believe it or not.
Honestly? I still have my moments. After all, that’s what common humanity is all about, right?
Self-compassion has given me a place to land when I’m spinning my wheels and my edges are sharp and I’m not living up to my own expectations.
When I show myself this kind of unconditional love, I can leave my shame at the door. I can stop hiding. And I can take the next imperfect step, which is what my inner critic wanted all along.