Today is World Compassion Day. And if you’re anything like me, you can use some compassion. Especially self-compassion.
I Used to Be My Own Worst Critic
For a long time, I proudly wore the title of My Own Worst Critic. It was a source of pride for me:
Nobody is harder on me than I am on myself.
Whatever mistake I made, from a slight infraction to bigger places where I completely dropped the ball, I made sure to give myself a big lecture about why I was so terrible as a human being. I spoke to myself in ways that I wouldn’t speak to my worst enemy.
I should have ….
I could have ….
That was so dumb…
You’re such a loser….
What the f8ck is wrong with you…?
Those are some of the nicer things.
The sad thing is, I often wasn’t aware that I was doing this. It sounded normal to talk to myself in this way. It was the way I had spoken to myself for as long as I can remember.
Until the time I was telling a mentor about some event that had transpired. I was in the middle of telling the story when she interrupted. With a pain-laced voice she asked me,
Why do you speak like that to yourself when you’re just doing your best?
Her words hit me like a punch in the gut.
You’re just doing your best.
Sure, I was doing my best.
But didn’t she understand what was going on?
My best wasn’t good enough.
That was my story. It wasn’t the truth.
I didn’t think much about self-compassion in those days. Compassion was something to extend to other people, not to myself.
Of course, what you can’t give to yourself you can’t give to others. As much as I wanted to believe I offered it, the truth is that my compassion wasn’t very … compassionate. It was hollow.
I’ve learned a lot since then about the value of self-compassion.
The Value of Self-Compassion
In addition to helping me be an all around more caring person to myself and others, research shows it is a crucial asset for productivity.
Self-compassion builds the resilience that helps us bounce back after failure or mistakes. It gives us a safe space in which to own our actions without fear of recrimination and takes us out of the cycle of blame and shame.
Psychologist Kristin Neff, a compassion researcher and the author of Self-Compassion explains that
Self-compassion allows us to turn toward and face the difficult feelings that arise when considering our own mistakes and misdeeds, meaning that we can see ourselves more clearly and do what’s needed to make things better.
My Struggle With Self-Compassion
I’ve been working on self-compassion for many years, and I’ve come to understand that this is one of those “lifetime processes.” I still find myself in moments of self-judgment and self-criticism
(which, in itself is progress: at least I’m aware of it).
Old habits die hard, and my inner critic is reluctant to leave.
What makes the self-judgment habit hard to break is that inner voice that sometimes wonders,
Am I being self-compassionate or am I simply making an excuse?
Where is the line between self-compassion and letting ourselves off easily?
Considering that I haven’t skipped a day of exercise in over 5 years, you won’t be surprised to learn that I am afraid of the slippery slope. I hang on to my daily streaks as though the world will end if I miss one day. Will it? Probably not, but I don’t want to find out.
That said, applying self-compassion has allowed me to be less rigid in the time constraints around my daily rituals. That has freed up energy for me to make progress in other areas, giving credence to the claim about self-compassion and productivity.
I’m not the only one concerned with using self-compassion as a rationalization. I’ve heard this question from many clients and colleagues: won’t this make me lose my edge?
In a word, according to Neff: No.
No matter how hard we try, we will mess up, fail, blow it, and step out of line. To believe that somehow that’s not the case, that if we were just to try a teeny-weeny bit harder perfection would be possible, is the real self-deception.
Admitting that we’re fallible human beings doing the best we can and being compassionate to ourselves in the face of our misdeeds actually allows us to take more responsibility for our actions. (Emphasis added.)
Neff explains that self-compassion allows us to see ourselves more clearly and do what’s needed to make things better. And the research is compelling.
Where’s the Line Between Self-Compassion and Rationalization?
Perhaps there’s a line somewhere where self-compassion turns into excuse. If there is one, I haven’t found it yet. I feel like I’m still pretty far from it.
So for now, when I hear that inner critic raise her voice in judgment I summon another voice within me to remind myself:
I’m just doing my best.
Do you struggle with self-compassion? Do you proudly wear the title of being your own worst critic? How would it feel to give it up and try self-compassion? Please share your take on this in the comments. I’ve love to learn from you.