Many of us, especially high-achievers, can be incredibly hard on ourselves. It’s not only that constantly compare ourselves to others, but that we do it in the most unfair way: pitting our lowlights against others’ highlights.
Consider if someone else compared your worst moment to your friend’s best moment; you’d call them out for bias and distortion. Yet we do it to ourselves all the time.
Compassion researcher Kristen Neff observed that we tend to constantly shift the goalposts for what counts as “good enough” so that they are always just out of reach — a concept I personally find resonant.
The Cycle of Self-Loathing
Our resulting self-judgment, self-berating, and self-aversion lead to insecurity, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and low self-worth.
We separate from our true essence; we cut off our belonging. This seeds the roots of an epidemic of self-medication with drugs, alcohol, food, overwork, busy-ness, social media, and whatever else we can find to escape the pain.
When we emerge from the escape, we greet ourselves with “tough love,” self-criticism, and self-judgement. Blaming ourselves for our shortcomings and failures. Then, needing refuge from the pain of our harsh self-lashing, we retreat again to the comforts of our escapism.
So goes the cycle of pain, suffering, and self-loathing.
How to Break the Cycle
The antidote to this, the way out, is self-kindness and self-compassion.
When we can hold space for what arises with compassion, without blaming or shaming, we can investigate the roots of our severed belonging.
Why We Don’t Break the Cycle
Many high achievers fear that self-compassion will make us lazy, that it will give us an easy excuse for falling short. If we’ve been conditioned in the school of criticism and “tough-love,” this is the strategy we know for getting results.
Self-Criticism is a False Panacea
But research shows that self-criticism only makes things worse.
Meditation teacher Tara Brach teaches that self-blame and shame shut down our learning centers. In those states, we can’t grow.
On the other hand, compassion researcher Kristen Neff explains explains that
the nurturing quality of self-compassion allows us to flourish, to appreciate the beauty and richness of life, even in hard times. When we soothe our agitated minds with self-compassion, we’re better able to notice what’s right as well as what’s wrong, so that we can orient ourselves toward that which gives us joy.
Self-Compassion: the Portal to Healing
When we hold our experience with compassion, we can better investigate the roots of our suffering and open the door to healing the deep wound that leads to comparison and not-enoughness.
So the next time your inner critics rise up with some tough love, perhaps try to “kill ’me with kindness” and a little self-compassion.