“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” Jack Kornfield
As the New Year begins it is common to reflect on what we hope for in the year to come. Our aspirations are usually tied to improvements in self and becoming the person we want to be. One way I hope to help my clients in the new year is to help them to develop greater self-compassion. Clients frequently come to me overemphasizing their flaws and weaknesses. They often engage in a game of mental self-criticism and lose sight of their strengths and positive qualities. I admit I, too, entertain such thoughts at times. Therefore, I intervene when this occurs by developing greater self-compassion. This involves providing the same comfort and forgiveness for vulnerabilities to ourselves that we give to others. But “How do we do this?” you may ask.
Self-compassion in its simplest form is kindness to self. How can we learn to me kinder and less attacking to ourselves? Here are a few ideas:
1. Notice the good. We seem to have acutely attuned radar for our misgivings or when we have performed poorly. We can easily drown out all the positive things we have done with one or two negatives. For instance, we may have many positive friendships, and one that is struggling. For those with little self-compassion it is easy to focus on how “I am not a good friend” or “I must be doing something wrong”, and forget that we actually have many relationships going well. To generate true self-compassion, it is important to realize and focus on what we are doing well; to rejoice in our accomplishments and the skills that we do have. Additionally, focusing on what we are doing right can help us in the areas where we are struggling. Recalibrating our radar to be more attuned to our positives is a step toward greater self-compassion and self-growth.
2. Develop a realistic view. One way to be more realistic is noticing the good, but another is to see the negative in a more realistic way. I often criticize myself when I have not accomplished all tasks on my daily tasks list. When this happens it is hard to see the things that I have been able to do and the self-criticism prevents me from realistically seeing how I can make adjustments to still get tasks done. Through self-compassion, I am trying to stop self-critical statements like “you never get anything done” to positive statements like “you have accomplished many things” (noticing the good), and “tomorrow is another chance to get the remaining tasks done” (being more realistic). By focusing on the reality of the situation, I feel less criticized and less stressed. In this way, I have demonstrated greater self-compassion.
3. Accept where you are. It is in our human nature to strive for greater things. We all want all to feel confident, capable, strong, and to feel that our life is working the way we want it to. However, striving involves struggle. If true accomplishments came easily we would have all reached our goals long ago and probably would not know what to do with ourselves. Learning to accept the struggle can actually decrease negative self-judgment and anxiety about our misgivings. For example, if we accept that while obtaining a college degree there often are some failings (not getting an assignment done or getting a bad grade) that are part of the struggle, we are less likely to become so negative when these events occur. This level of acceptance allows for greater self-compassion by helping us realize that struggle is often a necessary component in the development of the self we want to become.
4. Let yourself off the hook. It is amazing the compassion I see my clients have for other people in their lives. They are very capable of forgiving another’s misgivings. It is also equally amazing how difficult it can be for them to do the same for themselves. We all make mistakes; it is part of the human condition. Self-compassion involves forgiving yourself in the way you might a stranger or friend who has made a similar mistake. It involves saying to yourself, “Yes, that did not go well, but I am human, and I will try to make it go better in the future.”
Developing self-compassion is not an easy task, particularly if your tendencies for mental self-criticism are acutely honed. However, with time and practice it is possible to be more self-compassionate and caring, and the rewards to you can be great! For further information regarding this article, or if you feel you may need help in developing greater self-compassion, please call our office at 301-569-6326.