Too Critical For Compassion
I am too self-critical for self-compassion is a phrase that I hear from people pretty often. It is hard to not soften in the face of their frankness, and for a second I think about letting them off the hook. “Ok, no self-compassion for you. Let’s see if we cannot find some self-critical strategies that are more to your liking.”
Can you imagine self-critical psychology? You would find yourself experiencing distress, and instead of listening with a quiet sense of warmth, and consideration, you would be loud, and overbearing. You would use your current difficulties to point to deeper flaws, and you would circle back to these flaws until you pulled your hair out. It sounds like a heck of a workout. You might be able to use it as an effective diet strategy, if toxic criticism did not affect your metabolism, sleep, and eating so negatively.
The reason most of us find it easier to be self-critical is that we have been taught for too long that punishment is the most effective system for increasing work (research has debunked this so many times that it is completely ridiculous), and it is available to us. Yes, you heard me correctly. Self-Criticism is much, much, much more available to us than self-compassion.
People criticize other people all the time on social media, in traffic, at the grocery store, while waiting for the bus. When was the last time you saw so many people being self and other compassionate during one day that it was the first thing that came to mind, while engaged in conversation with your friend, family member, coworker, or spouse. I would guess that you would be hard pressed to recall such a day.
How I Moved From Criticism To Compassion
Before I started practicing self-compassion, I was very kind to others, but felt that my mind was too critical to be trusted. The truth is that I did not have self-compassion strategies available for difficult times, so I simply resorted to what was available to bolster myself forward, in this case, self-criticism. I got pretty far, but I paid for it. Nights where I could not sleep, my mind was brutal. It would come up with all of the ways that I would fail the subsequent day, and shamed me for not being able to perform one of the most elementary exercises of the human experience: sleep.
Now, when I cannot sleep, the very first question I ask is, “How can I be kind to myself?” I am not a better person. I am just like you. The critical voice is still there, but it really has nothing to do with my experience. If I cannot sleep, the best way to manage the experience and increase the possibility of sleep is to acknowledge that I come by my experience naturally, that there are really good reasons for it, that it requires no justification, and that I should use all available resources to be kind to myself.
It makes sense. The kinder I am to myself, the more energy and well-being I will have the following day no matter if I sleep or not. Think about it. Remember a day in which it was warm (but not too warm), sunny, and you were in a great mood. How much work could you do? Then, think of a day that was dark, cold, and gloomy, and you woke up feeling stressed, and pessimistic about life. How much work could you do then? The math is pretty simple. Sunny, optimistic days allow for much more work than gloomy, pessimistic ones.
So, even if your measuring stick is so low that all you care about is being productive, then self-compassion is in your best interest. I came to understand this over time, but what really helped me is that I trusted those who taught me self-compassion with my well-being. So, when my well-being was threatened, and I needed a response I could genuinely trust, I was able to take a chance, and use self-compassion.
Hopefully, in the past 138 days you have come to trust me, and can be afforded the same luxuries I was when suffering strikes. If not, I hope that you find someone you can trust. Your well-being is just too important for you not to.
Some days you will find yourself stuck, and no matter how much you want this self-compassion stuff you will be having a no good, dirty, rotten day. Days like this are the opposite of fun, so I use the acronym F.U.N. to help people climb out of it.
The F stands for fling it to the side. Imagine these negative feelings. Drop them into a bag. Knot the bag, and then fling it. Watch it as it lands out of sight.
The U stands for Understanding. Remind yourself that we all suffer. Somewhere, at this very moment, someone is feeling exactly the way you are. Sorry, my unique snowflakes. You are still special, but it is true. Give yourself the compassion you would give them.
The N stands for nama-lama-ding-dong. No, I am just kidding. It stands for Nurture. This is not for babies. All stress and no nurture will literally give you a heart attack. Instead, see how you can be kind to yourself, and judge the effectiveness of this strategy by how relaxed and just warm enough your body feels.
Crossing The Divide
If you have moved from stinks to fun, pat yourself on the back for allowing some self-compassion in where self-criticism used to be. If you are still not having fun, remember to be kind to yourself. Self-Compassion is a road that is judged by your long-term well-being not the speed at which it was reached.
In the end, it will not matter how fast anybody gets there, it just matters that you get there, and it is there for you, when you need it. Self-criticism will always try to re-invite itself in no matter how long you practice. The difference is that it will not stay very long.
365 Days of Self-Compassion. Day 138. In The Books.