Put simply, self-compassion is about liking yourself and treating yourself as well as you would treat a good friend, rather than talking to yourself and pushing yourself in a way you wouldn’t dream of doing to anyone else.
It sounds kind of obvious, and yet many of us find this surprisingly difficult to do.
Let’s take self- talk. How often do you find that inner critic telling you off in the harshest terms? ‘Oh God, you’ve done it again, you stupid cow’. ‘You look horrendous in that outfit.’.. When you really listen, it’s shocking.
Even if you don’t have such a harsh inner voice, you may fail to be self compassionate in the way you ignore your own needs, pushing yourself forward to do things even when you’re exhausted, or always putting the needs of others before your own.
Why do we treat ourselves this way?
Sometimes we do these things simply because we’ve never really consciously thought about what we’re doing to ourselves. If that’s the case, becoming more mindful and simply noticing what we’re saying inwardly or doing, and then choosing differently, can, over time, create a huge change.
But quite often we hang onto our inner critic/hard taskmaster because at some level we believe it’s necessary or good for us.
If we allowed ourselves to celebrate our successes, rather than focusing on our shortcomings, wouldn’t that make us arrogant? Isn’t self-criticism good for us?
Most of us reading this probably are, or were, teachers. Clearly constructive criticism and feedback is very important in learning and teaching- but would we ever expect a student to learn from being constantly told off and criticised?
Secondly we may also believe that being hard on ourselves is necessary in order for us to feel motivated. If we didn’t keep whipping ourselves on, we’d just sink back into apathy. But is that REALLY true? Is the only reason you work and achieve things because someone (you) is forcing you to do it against your will?
On my group programme for ELT freelancers and small business owners, this issue comes up again and again. As a recent graduate said, ‘I realised I used to be the worst boss (to myself) I ever had! ‘ That’s not why you decide to run your pwn business- it’s supposed to be enjoyable as well as profitable!
Thirdly, there can be a mindset that suffering is somehow good for us, that ‘the struggle makes us stronger.’ Yes, of course, overcoming adversity can indeed make us more resilient, but that’s completely different from making life hard for ourselves when it doesn’t need to be.
How to develop more self-compassion instead
You almost certainly haven’t achieved what you have in life because you criticised yourself and forced yourself through hoops. In fact, if you are prone to doing those things, it may well have held you back in many ways- causing you to over-extend yourself and end up exhausted and demoralised, or leading you to avoid doing things because you fear the backlash of the inner critic.
Wouldn’t it be good to just lay down the whips, and see what happens with some encouragement and nurturing?
If you are used to the stick, rather than the carrot, it’s not going to change overnight- and watch out for your inner critic beating you up for not having more self-compassion!
People also often try to get their inner critic to shut up and be silent, and then get very frustrated when they can’t. It doesn’t work that way. At some level, your brain believes that you need the inner critic, so if you try and shut it up, it will just shout louder. The key is to notice what it is doing, AND recognise that it doesn’t mean that what it’s saying is either true, or something you need to take any notice of. With practice, this gets easier and easier, and the voice will also start to pipe down naturally, as the brain gradually re-programmes into gentler ways of getting things done.