These past couple of weeks I’ve been reading Dr. Kristin Neff’s book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. I’ve been familiar with Dr. Neff’s work for several years now, but this is the first time I’ve read the book.
Most of us are pretty hard on ourselves. I know I’ve become much more self-compassionate over the years, but I didn’t start out that way. It certainly didn’t come naturally to me.
I think having kids switched on a light bulb in my mind, but I also started practicing mindfulness meditation the year after my oldest was born so perhaps the two are linked. At any rate – I started realizing that, more than anything, I wanted my children to be accepting of who they are. Of course, I also want them to learn to be kind to others, to be prepared to learn new things, and to see the ways in which their own choices are intricately woven into the experiences of others.
But I came to realize that the two didn’t have to be separate. You can be true to yourself and still see that your natural habits (perhaps impatience or irritability under stress) might negatively impact others. By being kind and accepting of yourself you give yourself the gift of learning – of saying to yourself, “You know, I can see it’s super hard for you to take a deep breath here, but I think you’ll feel better if you do.”
Anyway, all of that made me realize – if I want that for them, I should probably be making some efforts to do the same thing for myself.
Here are some of the ways I’ve brought more self-compassion into my own life in the past few years:
- I take breaks when I need them. This is a hard one for me. I like to be “doing,” but accepting that sometimes taking a break makes me more able to accomplish the tasks I have before me has been huge.
- I make every effort to approach myself without judgment. I have personality traits that can make life difficult for me. I can be impatient and I am kind of an anxious person. But instead of criticizing myself for these traits, I try to remind myself that I can respond differently to these natural tendencies if I choose to. More than being something I need to change about myself, these traits are things I need to know about myself so that I can make the best possible decisions for my life and in my relationships with others.
- I practice developing a relationship with all of my emotions. There are no good or bad emotions – just the way we feel at a given moment. But, it’s true that some emotions feel good to us and some feel awful. It’s not always easy, but I try my best to welcome all of my emotions as they come.
- I seek out the support of people I trust. This has been a big one. For much of my life, I felt the need to hide what I was truly feeling. I tend to be a pretty happy, optimistic person, but no one has only one channel. I don’t think when I was young I ever learned how to really express the whole range of emotions well. Fortunately, in my mid-twenties I started experimenting more with being open about my experiences (both positive and negative) with others. It was amazing to see the benefits of this. I found it alleviated some of my stress and worry, it strengthened my relationships with others and it made me see other people, as I had always wanted to be seen – as someone with a diverse range of feelings.
These are just a few of the ways that I’ve been able to be more loving with myself. We have a tendency to think that in order to succeed we need to be hard on ourselves, but contrary to what some people might assume – these shifts have enabled me to become more productive, more creative, more connected to the people I love and more able to see both ups and downs as part of the inherent human condition.
If you’re interested in becoming more self-compassionate, I highly recommend checking out Dr. Neff’s book. It is full of wonderful information about the science of self-compassion, but it’s highly accessible and also includes real life examples (including her personal story and struggle with self acceptance) and exercises you can do to boost your self-compassion. You can also test your level of self-compassion with her online quiz.
Be sure to also check out my blog post on how to take a break when you need one.