By Guest Blogger Juan Santos M.S., CRC, LCMHC
Have you thought to yourself, how do I treat myself during the ups and downs of life? How do I treat myself when things are going well? How do I treat myself when life kicks me right in the rear end?
Life, will without a doubt, present people with beautiful moments and others that are more challenging. During both, we experience a series of cognitive thoughts. Simply put, we experience inner thoughts that can lead us in one of two directions.
When people go through situations in life, they typically engage in one of two types of processes. The person engages in thoughts that connect to self-criticism or self-compassion. The healthy one of course if self-compassion. For clarity let’s first dive into understanding self-criticism and next to self-compassion.
Self-criticism takes place when a person negatively evaluates themselves. In essence, this type of thinking transforms a person into their own worst critic. A person that engages in self-criticism may use statements that include:
- No one likes me.
- I’m a bad parent.
- I’m so stupid.
Interestingly enough, many people use self-criticism as a form of unhealthy motivation. Consider this. An athlete going up to bat during a baseball game. The athlete thinks to himself. “Come on, stop being an idiot. If you don’t hit this ball everyone is going to see just how bad you are.”
The statement above, gives you insight into understanding how a person can practice self-criticism. In essence, the person is using it as a source of motivation. To push themselves to hit the ball versus a strikeout. The fuel driving them is the fear that comes with failure.
One reason that people use self-criticism as a form of motivation can be connected to experiences in their upbringing. Let’s consider the example above and imagine that the athlete was raised in a home where their parents used language that includes:
- You better hit the ball before they throw you off the team.
- No one will like you if you can’t be a star athlete.
- You’ll always be a loser if you can’t start on the team.
What tends to happen is that the athlete during their upbringing experienced many consistent negative messages from the key persons in their family system. The messages are those shown above, which include a negative connotation. The messages provoke fear and a motive to attack yourself to push yourself. For instance, attacking yourself by calling yourself a loser to propel yourself to get on the team.
This is strongly connected to the definition of self-criticism. A person that practices self-criticism transforms into their own worst friend.
Ample individuals experience success using self-criticism. Yet, they find themselves also experiencing great pain and a wall. The pain takes place each time the person engages in self-criticism. The pain can manifest or come out in the form of sadness, isolation, anger, or an unwanted feeling.
The wall takes place due to people that utilize self-criticism and find success often find themselves only being able to reach a certain level of success. For the athlete above, it may come in the form that the athlete excels through high school, college, and grows stuck in the minor leagues. The athlete may also experience walls in their ability to build a healthy relationship with themselves and those around them. This takes place due to the philosophy around how we treat ourselves is connected to how we treat others.
Self-compassion is the complete opposite of self-criticism
Self-compassion is not self-pleasure, it is not avoiding the issue or feeling, or putting the challenge at hand under the rug.
One of the key reasons that people struggle with the application of self-compassion is because they may feel that by not attacking themselves, they are getting away with whatever may have taken place. Consider the example as a walkthrough to understand the prior statement.
Sarah reflected on her recent performance evaluation during the counseling session. I received my performance evaluation at work. The first thing I did was review the score and all of a sudden, I felt frustrated with what I saw. I tried to first react by breathing and giving myself space to practice the affirmation of this moment does not define me. After the affirmation, I felt stuck. I bit my lip and called myself things that I now regret. I steered towards self-criticism.
Sarah shared with the therapist, that she wanted to continue using self-love and affirmation. Sarah told the therapist she started to attack herself because she didn’t want to let herself get away with what took place. She told herself, “what are you doing with your life. Get your life together. This is ridiculous. This is exactly why you aren’t getting a promotion. My ex was right about me.”
In the example above you can pinpoint why Sarah decided to shift from self-criticism to self-compassion. The purpose of presenting the case above is to simply share a common reason why people may struggle to use self-compassion.
Self-compassion is the mixture of two key ingredients, accountability, and self-love. The mixture creates goodwill, which provides you with the opportunity to learn and grow while giving yourself kindness.
Accountability simply means that when a situation takes place in life, you are willing to take a step back and identify how you were connected to the process versus blaming others. Self-love is the practice of showing yourself unconditional compassion, kindness, and nurture. This can come in verbal and non-verbal language.
What does self-compassion look like:
Self-compassion is the process of growing into your own best friend. You are always there for yourself whether it be in giving yourself a long hug or allowing yourself to practice self-care.
Below are examples of affirmations to practice for self-compassion:
- I love myself.
- My mistakes do not define me or restrict me from future opportunities.
- I am allowed to make mistakes.
- I am learning and growing as I move forward in life.
Below are examples of practices for self-compassion:
- Practicing mindfulness in respect to giving yourself space to become aware of the negative or hurtful thoughts that you are experiencing.
- Practicing kindness by taking time to show yourself forgiveness versus punishing or attacking yourself for mistakes.
- Practicing generosity by giving yourself space to use positive affirmations.
How to practice self-compassion
Let’s consider the case of Sarah from above with a few modifications. Sarah receives the performance evaluation at work. Before opening the document to read the score, Sarah decided to give herself 120 seconds. 60 seconds for deep breathing and 60 seconds with positive self-compassion affirmations.
After the practice, Sarah opened the document. She experienced an automatic initial reaction just like that of what takes place with a muscle reflex. Too fast to stop. She read the score and saw a low number. The thought, “oh that is not what I was expecting.”, came up. Sarah immediately felt down and frustrated with herself. When she noticed her shift in mood, she decided to close the document and take an additional 60 seconds of deep breathing.
After breathing, Sarah took time to practice mindfulness by writing down the emotions she was experiencing and why she thought the score was accurate. She wrote down, I feel frustrated because the score is not what I wanted it to be. She wrote down, I take ownership over the score because I do remember several times getting behind with work detail this past quarter when I decided to take on extra work. I realize now that I may have put a little too much on my plate.
After writing, Sarah shifts to embracing herself with kindness. She gave herself a big hug and opened the evaluation to read over the positive remarks. After reading, Sarah decided to take herself out for a Starbucks coffee as an act of kindness for being proud of herself with how she handled the performance evaluation.
Later in the day, Sarah took time to create a plan of action focused on how she plans to improve her score on the evaluation. Part of the plan included seeking feedback from her supervisor and re-evaluating the items that are on her plate.
The example above is lengthy. Yet, I hope that you can gain value from it. Value in learning how to navigate situations in your life. The practice of self-compassion above all else is a practice of generosity.
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