Practicing Self-Compassion: Why Is It So Difficult To Be Kind To Ourselves?
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
I missed my September Blog.
I created my Organizing & Mindfulness Blog in March 2020 right before Covid hit. Every month since then, I have been faithfully publishing one blog at the end of each month. But when this September rolled around, insanity hit. I had so much happening - celebrating 5 Jewish holidays in a row (In order: Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret & Simchat Torah), preparing for guests, getting my 2 kids settled in school at home and abroad, and carrying my regular client load. So September came and went without a blog. And even though I preach self compassion to my clients, boy did I beat myself up about it.
And it’s not just me who has this self-flagellating tendency. Countless times, I have shown up to a client session only to hear the client berate him or herself. Here are some common phrases that I hear:
I am so embarrassed by this mess.
I didn’t get to your homework. I am terrible.
How could I let this room get so out of control?
Why are we so hard on ourselves? Psychologist Kristin Neff explains that we carry around these common misconceptions surrounding self-compassion and self-criticism:
We think that being kind to ourselves will stifle our drive to do better.
We think harsh criticism will push us to improve.
Our brain perpetuates the myth that “Perfection can be a reality.”
However, in truth:
Self-criticism serves as a barrier to self-improvement
Harsh criticism is similar to corporal punishment: It will work in the short term but produce harmful long-term effects
We are by nature imperfect
So how can we break through these brain barriers and improve our practice of self-compassion? Here are some tips:
Mindfulness is the first step in assessing your feelings and needs, an important part of any kind of compassion. How are you feeling at the moment? Are you hurting? Disappointed? Those feelings signal the need for self compassion.
We all make mistakes - attempting and failing is a universal struggle. Recognizing this imperfection in ourselves allows us to be more compassionate with others. For example, if I give myself a break when I am late to an appointment, I am more likely to treat others with compassion when they turn up late to our meeting. The next time you treat someone harshly consider: Are you perhaps intolerant in this area because you don’t allow yourself some leverage? Perhaps this is more about you and your feelings and needs.
We all know that “Practice Makes Better.” (Remember, there is no such thing as Perfection). But how do we practice self-compassion?
The next time you fail to live up to your own expectations, say out loud. “It’s OK, insert your name, everybody makes mistakes” or “That’s OK, you will do better next time.”
Use soothing gestures such as a pat on your own back or a self-hug, even a shoulder kiss.
Speak as though you are talking to a friend or loved one instead of in first person (“You” or your name in third person instead of “I”). Studies have shown that we can think more clearly when regarding others over ourselves. Why? Learn more about the Solomon Paradox.
In her Happier podcast, Gretchen Rubin shares that many teachers dub the first week of school, “Mercy Week”. During that week, teachers extend a free pass to any late students as they adjust to their school schedule. I have decided that September is my “Mercy Month” and am giving myself a free pass. “It’s OK, Jill - you deserve it!,” I am now telling myself. And don’t forget that YOU deserve self-compassion when you fall short of your own expectations.
Have any insights about self-compassion? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!