When you misplace your glasses for the 10th time this week, or agree to do something and then don't get to it, or the project you're working on doesn't look like you wanted it to, do you call yourself names that you wouldn't call your friends? When you go to bed too late and then regret it in the morning when the alarm goes off, is the first thing you say to yourself a curse word followed by calling yourself stupid?
Many people find that practicing compassion for themselves is much more difficult than having compassion for others.
Compassion is defined as "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it" by Merriam-Webster's online dictionary. So if I'm trying to learn how to practice "sympathetic consciousness" of my distress and then "alleviate it," why is it so hard?
A common reason that having compassion for ourselves is difficult is because we are largely unaware of how often we are self-critical.
Self-compassion is can also be challenging because we're paying attention to others more than we are to ourselves. When we feel overwhelmed in our own lives, it's easier to try to fix others problems than focus on improving our situation. Sometimes people mistake self-compassion for self-pity or being selfish. But a healthy balance of practicing compassion for others as well as oneself usually creates kindness and happiness.
Many people tend to overlook self-compassion in their self-care routine.
Healthy diet, regular exercise, and fulfilling relationships are fabulous foundations for a balanced lifestyle, though many people who practice positive daily habits may leave out self-compassion. Scheduling exercise routines, a meal plan, and a weekly date night are great ways to keep goals on track and stay healthy, but don't forget to include some leeway into that schedule.
Do you find yourself metaphorically beating yourself up because you didn't follow through with your exercise plan or you ate something you decided is not allowed anymore?
What happens if you aren't able to stick to the timeline, or you grab a bite to eat out instead of making the healthy meal you had planned? Are you critical of yourself when you don't stick to your routine? Are you able to forgive yourself for being too physically tired to exercise yesterday? Begin one step at a time to cut yourself some slack but having compassion for yourself.
5 Ways to Practice Self-Compassion:
1. Pretend you are your best friend
Pretend you and a good friend are sitting and talking with each other, and your friend shares a very long list of negative, hurtful names she calls herself. You're surprised and ask what are the things she has done that make her so upset with herself. She reports the same things you are so critical of yourself about. If you can have compassion for your friend, i.e. feel "sympathy" and want to "alleviate her distress," then pretend you are your friend. It's often easier to forgive our loved ones than forgive ourselves.
2. Watch how children forgive themselves
If you have children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews, or even neighbor kids that you know, imagine them taking a baseball bat and hitting themselves in the head with it because they fell off their skateboard going downhill in the driveway. That's a pretty harsh reaction, right? That's what many adults do with severe judgments about themselves because they made a simple mistake. When you make a mistake and automatically reach for the metaphorical bat to hit yourself with, take a step back and look at the big picture. Often the mistake we are damaging ourselves over is only a piece of the bigger picture. We never need a bat when we make a mistake. We need a kind ear to listen and some encouragement. So put the bat down please.
3. Imagine yourself as a little kid
Go through some old pictures of yourself and find one you like, one that brings a smile to your face. I want you to imagine this little kid version of yourself sitting next to you. Start a conversation with your little kid self, pretending your little kid had a bad day at school and is calling himself names, saying a bunch of reasons he isn't a good student or likable as a friend. What would you tell yourself about what kind of person you are and why you are deserving of love and friendship? Tell yourself why you are worthy and valuable as a human being.
4. Crack a smile
Laughter is the best medicine, right? Frequent negative thoughts, being self-critical and having consistently high expectations for ourselves may lead to a pattern of taking ourselves too seriously. Sometimes the best thing to do when we make a mistake is to laugh at ourselves. We can even turn a frustrating situation or series of events into a goofy, fun-making giggle-fest by seeing the ridiculousness in our own negativity. Sharing our frustrations with others and having fun with our overly serious selves is a great way to embrace compassion for yourself.
5. Make a list
Increase your awareness by writing a list of every judgmental or critical thought, feeling or action toward yourself in a 24 hour period. Remember to include all the negative things you think to yourself, such as calling yourself mean names. Record all the feelings of disappointment, frustration, fear, etc, because you didn't live up to your own standards. Document your behaviors that were instigated by negative self-talk, such as drinking a bit too much wine, yelling at your kids or partner, or isolating yourself from friends or co-workers. When the day is over and you take a look at the list, you'll have a visual record of the frequency and manner in which you tend to NOT practice self-compassion. And you will have a road map of where to start being kind and forgiving to yourself.
Unfortunately, it's extremely common for people to feel bad about themselves because they didn't complete a goal, ate or drank something they weren't going to, or behaved in a way that they're trying to change. You are not alone in having low self-confidence or self-esteem.
Fortunately, there is something you can do about it to increase your sense of self-worth and learn to be loving, compassionate and encouraging to yourself!
Learning to forgive yourself for mistakes, having more realistic and healthy standards and expectations of self, and increasing your awareness of when the negative self-talk starts and interrupting it with positive and motivating words all lead to developing healthy habits that include daily self-compassion.
So, what is your first step toward feeling delighted with self-compassion going to be?