Self-Compassion

unworthy

Most people are hard on themselves, more so than they are on others.  I have found this common thread running through clients, friends, and myself. We tell ourselves we are stupid, we shouldn’t have done that, said that, should have done something different. We ask ‘what’s wrong with me?’, “why am I like this?”  and so on.

Once I gain a client’s trust and make a real connection (which does not always happen, I am not going to pretend I’m the best therapist for everyone), there often comes a point where we get down to what’s going on inside his or her head.  Now, some people don’t notice their thoughts, and it’s all a muddle of swirling words and image, but most people are aware of at least some ‘self-talk’ — and that is where change can begin.

Let me break it down:

What do you tell yourself?  Do you criticize  yourself, tell yourself you’re a loser, a failure, will never amount to anything?  Do you berate yourself endlessly for saying the wrong thing, for wishing you had done something differently? Do you call yourself names?

Imagine you are your best friend.  Would you tell your friend they are a failure, or ask what’s wrong with them?  For most people, of course the answer is no.  So why are you treating yourself worse than your friend?  You would likely tell your friend everyone makes mistakes, no one’s perfect, or something along those lines.

So why are you holding yourself to a higher standard than your friend? For many people, I believe it’s important to ask ‘why’, and answers often emerge during individual therapy.  But there is something most of us can do, starting right now:

  • Whenever possible, notice your thoughts. Awareness always comes first
  • When you notice yourself being critical or negative about yourself, DON’T FIGHT IT.  By fighting against the thought you are actually reinforcing it. So –
  • Accept the thought.  “Oh, there I go again, calling myself stupid”.   Just notice and accept.  You can tell yourself it’s OK to think/feel that way, you are human.  Humans make mistakes. Humans are not perfect.
  • As you become more accepting, change the thought (reframe it):   “I’m not stupid, I did the best I could at the time”.

Each person has to find the best way to listen and talk to themselves. The idea is to develop, over time, the habit of observing your thoughts, and to be compassionate with yourself.

I have used this method, and over time have found that I rarely think badly of myself. When I do slip up I find that there is little of the emotional intensity behind it.  None of what I have said is original, and a lot has been written about how changing your thinking changes the brain, but right now I am just focusing on keeping it simple — how to feel better about yourself.

I welcome your comments!

 

 

 

 

The Myth of Security

103_456169127747067_193865643_n

Bearing in mind recent events surrounding tropical storm Harvey, and another hurricane on the way, this not meant to be insensitive.  I am distressed when I see and hear about hardship — I know what it’s like to have your life turned suddenly upside down.

I’ve been collecting poems and quotations since high school, and in recent years have combined some with my own photos (this one is Lake Michigan on a frigid winter day).  The above quote by Helen Keller is one of my favorites, and it means more because she saw so clearly, despite being blind and deaf.  Expecting to have security in life is unrealistic; it is one reason many people seek therapy.  They come because of a divorce, or job loss, or the death of a loved one. They come because there was an accident, an illness, a past trauma, or a drug and/or alcohol addiction.

The common thread is this: “I didn’t expect my life to turn out his way”.

No one thinks tragedy or misfortune is going to befall them, unless, perhaps, they have already experienced such things. Then they are in a struggle to accept what is — versus wishing it were different.

It’s human nature to shut down and try to ‘avoid danger’, but life happens. While precautions can be taken, there is no way to plan for every possible thing that can go wrong.  People who try to do so can be crippled with anxiety.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to learn this lesson, and had to keep my “face toward change” when I wanted to turn away.  Have I always treated life like a daring adventure?  Not usually. It was easier to face and even welcome change when I was younger, but then,  I was looking for something outside of me to make me feel safe.  Now I know that security comes from the inside, and this is something I try to help others move toward.  It may not be a ‘daring adventure’ but it is a journey, and a rewarding one.