I don’t know about you, but I often have bad days when I think everything is going wrong in my life. I go into a real negative tailspin. I start criticizing myself, revisiting my many mistakes and failures, and judging myself as a terrible person. I tell myself I am not a good enough parent, daughter, lawyer and on and on. I constantly feel guilty or inadequate.
I ask myself, “What’s wrong with me?”
The real answer is that there is nothing “wrong” with me. There is nothing wrong with any of us. Of course, none of us is perfect, and we need to remove that “perfect” concept from our psyche. We are defeating ourselves and sabotaging our happiness and success by being judgmental, self-critical and negative toward ourselves.
Sadly, we live in a culture of judgment, criticism and blame. It is a culture that focuses on individual shortcomings. We get the message that if we are not doing well, it is our own fault because we are too __________. (Fill in the blank.)
So, we pick ourselves apart — judging, critizing and blaming. We believe that is the answer to fixing ourselves and our lives. “If only I had said this or done that, things would be better”, we tell ourselves.
Can we change this negative self-talk? In my experience, simply telling myself to stop being self-critical works only temporarily. Before long I will have launched into another self-critical dialogue…
“It is my fault. I know there is something really wrong with me that prevents me from getting where I want to be- professionally and personally. It has to be. There are so many successful people out there-just look at all of them! I am not good enough or smart enough, or I don’t work hard enough. Maybe I just don’t deserve it. Things are never going to change. Why do I even try?
That is what I say to myself. Negative self-talk is so ingrained in me that I don’t even realize it is going on in my head. I think it is normal! If feels almost beyond my control.
There is a solution. If we want to stop the nasty internal dialogue, we need to learn and practice self-compassion. Compassion is a deep feeling for the suffering of another individual or group coupled with a desire to alleviate that suffering in a non-judgmental way. Self-compassion is simply compassion directed toward ourselves.
There are three components to self-compassion according to Dr. Kristen Neff. Self-kindness is the first part, followed by recognizing we are all human and then being aware (mindful) of our experiences without judging them. (There will be more on the latter two elements in future articles.)
Self-kindness entails responding to our own suffering (self-inflicted or otherwise) by offering support, comfort, acceptance and forgiveness to ourselves as we would to a friend. Self-kindness means we stop the self-criticism and the disparaging internal dialogue that we think is normal. We stop judging ourselves against some impossible standard. We stop revisiting every one of our mistakes or failures for the “hell” of it.
We are so programmed to engage in these behaviors it may not be possible to stop them altogether. But we can learn to not encourage them, and certainly we don’t have to believe our self-criticisms and judgments. We can learn we are valuable and worthy of love and care. When faced with our human imperfection, rather than responding with criticism and judgment, we can offer warmth, gentleness and sympathy to ourselves. We can comfort ourselves.
How can we do that? There are scientifically proven exercises for learning and achieving self-compassion. For example, we have an inner soother which, when tapped into, has the ability to comfort us by saying accepting things in a warm and compassionate way. One such statement is, “I love and accept myself exactly as I am.” You can find our own phrases that will soothe your pain, whatever pain that may be. You can write those down and repeat them when you start judging or critizing yourself.
When we comfort ourselves, we are tapping into our biology — our natural caregiving system. Compassion is much more than a feel-good notion. It manifests itself in our bodies. We are genetically predisposed to be caring and compassionate. Compassion and kindness trigger the release of a hormone in our body called oxytocin. Oxytocin is called “the love and bonding hormone.” It is released, for example, during breastfeeding, sex and hugging – even when we hug ourselves. Oxytocin increases feelings of trust, calm, safety, generosity and connectedness.
Now, when I find myself going to those dark places, I turn to self-compassion. One of my tools is to repeat the mantra, “ I love and accept myself exactly as I am”. You too can practice self-compassion and self-kindness. When you do, instead of sabotaging yourself, you will be laying a foundation upon which you can can build the life you truly want… and deserve.
Originally published at medium.com