Sally (45) is the owner of a highly successful business, has a growing family and is very involved in her community. Yet repeatedly, she verbally beats herself up.
When Sally perceives she has done something wrong the verbal abuse starts. This sets off a cascade of self-critical thoughts, which then leads her to feel terrible about herself. Once this self loathing has taken hold, Sally may engage in destructive behaviour — retreating to bed for the day, over eating, or getting drunk.
Research indicates that people cope better with stress and have a faster recovery from adverse life events if they practice self compassion.
Sally, like many others, believes that if she is kinder to herself, she is likely to sit and do nothing all day. She thinks that the harder she is on herself, the more motivated she will become to change. While this may be true in the short term, in the long term treating herself harshly may lower her self-esteem and be a factor in maintaining her anxiety and depression.
This is analogous to a coach in a rugby team motivating the players through criticism rather than constructive feedback. It is very clear from the literature on raising children and motivating people, that praise for effort and achievement is more effective in changing behaviour than constant criticism.
It may be that you have not received compassion from your caregivers and have no idea how to practice self compassion. However, this is a skill like any other and even if you have had no experience previously you can learn it.
To practice self compassion, try the following:
- When you notice negative self judgement, try and turn your mind to kindness (you might have to repeat this step several times if you are in the habit of finding fault with yourself).
- Focus on the facts of the situation not the global judgements you are likely to have attributed to yourself. For example “I didn’t turn up on time,” instead of “I’m a useless friend and now they see me as uncaring.”
- See your mistake as your understanding best friend would see it and complete the following sentences: This behaviour makes sense because… This is understandable because…..
- Remind yourself that you, like everyone else, makes mistakes from time to time. This is not a personal failing, but it is just how it is when you’re a human!
- Remind yourself that your mistakes do not define you. We often magnify our failings and lose perspective on the many other things we do well.