“Unlike self-criticism, which asks if you are good enough, self-compassion asks what’s good for you?”
~ Kristin Neff
Self-compassion is one of the greatest gifts we will ever give to ourselves!
Only when we show love and kindness to ourselves, are we truly authentic in our love and kindness to others. Self-criticism is like poison in our systems, that if allowed to persist, will eventually leach-out and effect the relationships that we cherish the most.
Kristin Neff, author of the book, Self-Compassion, The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, offers some ideas and practices that will help in learning how to be as kind to ourselves, as we believe we are to others.
First, she says, “write yourself a letter. Take the perspective of being a compassionate friend, so you can imagine that you are this other person.”
Writing a letter to myself, using words of compassion and understanding, was difficult for me. As I wrote down words that were kind and gentle, I was still criticizing myself - not only in my head, but under my breath! Obviously, I was in need of her second step!
"Write down your self-talk."
This was going to be painful, but necessary. I had no idea how many ugly words I spoke to myself about all sorts of things. These words ran in the background of my thoughts, as if they were hard-wired into my brain.
As I wrote the words, I was truly shocked at the running monologue in my head, tearing me down and stomping on me. I would never speak to anyone, not even someone I detested, the way I was silently (or not so silently) speaking to myself.
Looking down at the self-critical words I had written, I realized that most of those words were lies. They were lies that I have been telling myself for years. Yes, I need to lose weight, but my words made me sound like a lost-cause and ugly, causing people to be embarrassed to be seen with me! WOW!!
Plus, my weight was just one hot topic to beat myself up over. I have several themes, and when triggered, the stories and the words take over any and all of the positives in my life.
The mind can act like a runaway train, with no way to stop it, until it hits bottom and climbs up a higher slope to safety. It was time to stop this train! Once, I prayed for an open heart and began letting go, the truth came pouring out. I'm human and I make/made mistakes, but I'm a child of God. I deserve kindness, gentleness and understand - especially from myself.
Thirdly, Neff, suggests that we have a personal mantra that we speak to ourselves when the stories begin to take over. I use different words depending upon which story is playing, but one phrase comes to mind each time:
"Stop right now!
I made a mistake!
I will do better next time!"
If I have hurt someone, I will apologize. Mostly, I try to remember that I'm not, or never will be perfect. Neff states, "It is important to give yourself permission to be imperfect." We all know that no one is perfect, but nevertheless, we hold ourselves up to a standard that isn’t humanly possible, then we beat ourselves up for it.
I have also developed a mindfulness practice, which brings me back to my center and back to reality. Sitting quietly, as I silence the voices in my head, I become present in the moment, yet alert to the sounds around me. I become aware of my breath, the noises outside, and the stillness of my body. I am in a state of focused relaxation, paying attention to thoughts and feelings, without judgment. I’m in the present moment, where I can see the truth, and not the stories and lies that I tell myself.
If you have tried mindfulness, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, give it a try. Be sure to allow enough time to sit quietly, plus, you will need to practice patience. The mind needs coaxing, in order to slow down and behave!
Most importantly, we need to remember that we are not alone in our struggles, our mistakes, or our choices. We are not unique. Every person on earth, from time to time, has felt the pain of some kind of failure or mistake. And, as I approach 64 years of life on this earth, I’m quite sure that there are more mistakes in my future. How I treat myself over those mistakes will be a testimony to the work that I have been doing in order to show compassion to myself.
“Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves”
~ Pena Chodron