I’ve spent most of my life being hard on myself. I’ve expected perfection from everything I do or say, and when I’ve fallen short, I often berate myself and drop into shame. When my anxiety turned me nonfunctional years ago, I noticed how awful I made myself feel for feeling awful. I was already experiencing difficulty and I chose to add even more unworthiness on top of that.
But I realized that, when I was kind to myself during a panic attack, the intense fear went away more quickly. When I sent myself love and compassion, the sensations of panic became easier to handle.
And now, my self-talk has completely changed. I talk to myself sweetly and gently. I comfort myself when things are difficult. I wrap myself in love like I would a child. This self-compassion is a daily practice and sometimes I get caught up in shame before I remember to turn back to kindness.
The past couple of weeks, due to outside circumstances and not taking care of myself well, my anxiety flared the most it has in a while. My first reaction was to be harsh with myself. I would think, “Gosh, what’s wrong with you that you can’t get a grip on your thoughts? You teach this stuff for a living and here you are struggling! Look at everyone around you that doesn’t deal with this. It must be a personal failing on your part.” See, I can get pretty mean!
Anxiety and depression can make us feel lonely, useless, or like a burden. So we might look outside of ourselves for love and comfort. We might cling to partners or family or work to make us feel good and to soothe us in a way we aren’t providing for ourselves.
But what if we recognized our own capacity to provide the kindness and comfort that we need? What if, in those moments of difficulty, we acknowledged how hard this is and sent so much compassion to our own hearts?
I’ve been immersed in this book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff, lately and it has truly changed my daily interaction with myself.
She says, “One of the most robust and consistent findings in the research literature is that people who are more self-compassionate tend to be less anxious and depressed.” So why aren’t we being kinder to ourselves?
In particularly challenging circumstances, Neff recommends repeating these phrases to yourself:
This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is a part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the compassion I need.
What we DON’T need in the midst of difficulty is our own shame, guilt, judgment, and unworthiness. This doesn’t serve anyone and certainly not ourselves.
So how do we practice self-compassion?
Notice and be mindful of the times you start to get down on yourself. Noticing is the first step in breaking out of the cycle.
Take a few deep breaths and choose a different response. Perhaps place a hand on your heart. And begin talking to yourself with kindness. Maybe choose an affirmation that speaks to your heart. “I love and approve of myself.” “I am here for myself, no matter what.” “I am worthy.”
Then allow that love to be received.
Yes, self-compassion is wonderful in theory, but until we start practicing it in our day to day lives, we won’t see the miraculous changes in our thoughts and behaviors. At first it won’t be easy and it may feel really awkward, but if we stick with it, we may find a sense of peace beyond what others could give us.
Where in your life do you get hard on yourself? Can you recognize our common humanity and that you’re still worthy even though you struggle? ❤