‘Be kind to yourself! Instead of chastising yourself every time you are less than perfect, it is time to take a more balanced view. There will always be things we could have done better; we are human and therefore imperfect by nature. But alongside these you should acknowledge what you did well and give yourself a pat on the back. Be patient with yourself when things don’t go well and praise when they do. Encourage yourself and become your own best friend. Meet your eyes in the mirror (if you dare), smile and give yourself unconditional love.’
I wrote this in my book, The Compassionate Practitioner and posted it on Facebook. After a lifetime of being my own most severe critic, I am finally learning the art of self-compassion. “Be kind to yourself” sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Some ice-cream, some chocolate, a good movie, a pair of new shoes, a new car: there’s no end of ways we could be good to ourselves. But self-compassion is not made up from gifts and toys bought to appease an appetite for food or possessions. It is the ability to accept who we are in this moment, even if it’s imperfect and unfinished.
My personal big discovery was that my own inner critic talks down at me, saying, “you should do better.” It is like an external voice, using, “you”, where most of my thinking is done in terms of “I”. It’s a useful self-observation and if I find myself calling myself you, it alerts me to look out for self-criticism. Maybe we copied this critical voice from our parents or teachers when we were very young.
There are three components to self-compassion according to Kristin Neff, writing in Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself up and Leave Insecurity behind. They are mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness.
Mindfulness means being aware of your feelings, thoughts and emotions and acknowledging them – especially in those times when something has gone wrong. Your inner critic has got high standards and it only knows how to criticise, never praise. Think about that for a moment: if the inner critic doesn’t know how to praise, then it’s not providing a balanced view. It’s not taking the role of the unprejudiced observer, however authoritative it may sound. It needs to be tempered by looking deliberately at the same topic and noting what went well. It needs some self-appreciation to balance the criticism.
Another aspect of self-compassion is to look at it through the eyes of common humanity. What would other people have done in your situation? They would have made an equal number of mistakes and had an equal number of successful outcomes. They’re not perfect either and don’t let your inner critic tell you otherwise.
Finally, you can soothe yourself, like a mother soothes her child when it is upset. You can stroke your skin and say to yourself, “it’s okay, you’re doing really well in all these other ways, you don’t need to be upset over such a little slip, other people have made the same mistake, overall you’re doing really good work, you don’t need to think about that right now, it’s okay, I love you.”