Self-Coaching: Discover how to Stop Criticizing and Feeling Insecure through being more Self-Compassionate

Daily Quote: “If life is what we choose to make of it, then I will choose to forget losses and negativity and live a life full of possibility and abundance; high energy and exhilaration; happiness, and fulfillment.  I will choose to live a passionate, meaningful and inspired life based on doing the “best I can with what I have”. Mark W. Hardwick, Ph.D 

The relentless search for high self-esteem has become dogmatic with most psychologists and coaches. Our competitive culture tells us we need to be special, above average and be a winner in order to feel good about ourselves, but we can’t all be above average. There is always someone richer, more attractive, or successful than we are. And even when we do manage to feel self-esteem for one golden moment, we can’t hold on to it. Our sense of self-worth bounces around like a golf ball, rising and falling in lock-step with our latest success or failure.

If you feel that you lack sufficient self-compassion or self-understanding, check in with yourself – are you criticizing yourself too much?  If so, stop and learn to be more gentle and forgiving of yourself.  Try to feel compassion for how difficult it is to be a fallible human being and imperfect in this extremely competitive society of ours.  Most of us live in cultures that do not emphasize self-compassion, quite the opposite.  We’re told that we’re being lazy and self-indulgent if we don’t harshly push and criticize ourselves.  We’re told that no matter how hard we try, our best just is not good enough. We become driven and stressed out individuals who are never satisfied with their life.  It’s time for something different.  We can all benefit by learning to be more forgiving and self-compassionate.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to self-esteem that many psychologists believe is a better and more effective path to happiness: self-compassion building into a sense of self-efficacy. The research of Dr. Kristin Neff and others strongly suggests that people who are more self-compassionate lead happier, healthier, more productive lives than those who are self-critical. Feelings of security and self-worth provided by self-compassion are highly stable. while self-esteem fluctuates depending on you latest success or failure. Self-compassion steps in precisely when we fall down, allowing us to get up and try again.

Dr. Neff helps readers understand that compassion isn’t only something that we should apply to others. Just as we are able to provide compassion for a good friend who was going through a difficult illness or loss or felt inadequate in some way, why not for ourselves? Many people believe that they need to be self-critical to motivate themselves, but in fact they just end up feeling anxious, incompetent and stressed. Dr. Neff’s research shows that far from encouraging self-indulgence, self-compassion helps us to see ourselves clearly and make needed changes because we care about ourselves and want to reach our full potential.

Her groundbreaking book Self-Compassion based on years of solid empirical research into human happiness and success  identifies how to let go of insecurity and constant, debilitating self-judgment and finally learn to be kind to themselves. This book provides practical exercises to support people who want to tackle the skill of self-compassion. Below I am posting some info from Dr. Neff to help you get started and if this info triggers your curosity and interest I would definitely invest a few bucks and buy it. This idea hof self-compassion has the power to change your life. First let’s get to an overview of what self-compassion is and how it differs from self-esteem. 

Definition of self-compassion

Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others. “Think about what the experience of compassion feels like. First, to have compassion for others you must notice that they are suffering. If you ignore that homeless person on the street, you can’t feel compassion for how difficult his or her experience is. Second, compassion involves feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to “suffer with”). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience…” 

Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment? Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect? You may try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are worthless or unacceptable as you are. Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness and fallibility. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.

The three elements of self-compassion

Self-kindness. Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.  Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. People cannot always be or get exactly what they want. When this reality is denied or fought against suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism.  When this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced.

Common humanity.
 Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes.  All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect.  Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.  It also means recognizing that personal thoughts, feelings and actions are impacted by “external” factors such as parenting history, culture, genetic and environmental conditions, as well as the behavior and expectations of others.  Thich Nhat Hahn calls the intricate web of reciprocal cause and effect in which we are all imbedded “interbeing.”  Recognizing our essential interbeing allows us to be less judgmental about our personal failings. After all, if we had full control over our behavior, how many people would consciously choose to have anger issues, addiction issues, debilitating social anxiety, eating disorders, and so on?  Many aspects of ourselves and the circumstances of our lives are not of our choosing, but instead stem from innumerable factors (genetic and/or environmental) that we have little control over.  By recognizing our essential interdependence, therefore, failings and life difficulties do not have to be taken so personally, but can be acknowledged with non-judgmental compassion and understanding.

Mindfulness. Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.  This equilibrated stance stems from the process of relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective. It also stems from the willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time.  At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.

Self-compassion versus self-esteem

Although self-compassion may seem similar to self-esteem, they are different in many ways.  Self-esteem refers to our sense of self-worth, perceived value, or how much we like ourselves. While there is little doubt that low self-esteem is problematic and often leads to depression and lack of motivation, trying to have higher self-esteem can also be problematic.  In modern Western culture, self-esteem is often based on how much we are different from others, how much we stand out or are special.  It is not okay to be average, we have to feel above average to feel good about ourselves.  This means that attempts to raise self-esteem may result in narcissistic, self-absorbed behavior, or lead us to put others down in order to feel better about ourselves.  We also tend to get angry and aggressive towards those who have said or done anything that potentially makes us feel bad about ourselves.  The need for high self-esteem may encourage us to ignore, distort or hide personal shortcomings so that we can’t see ourselves clearly and accurately.

Finally, our self-esteem is often contingent on our latest success or failure, meaning that our self-esteem fluctuates depending on ever-changing circumstances.

In contrast to self-esteem, self-compassion is not based on self-evaluations. People feel compassion for themselves because all human beings deserve compassion and understanding, not because they possess some particular set of traits (pretty, smart, talented, and so on). This means that with self-compassion, you don’t have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself.  Self-compassion also allows for greater self-clarity, because personal failings can be acknowledged with kindness and do not need to be hidden. Moreover, self-compassion isn’t dependent on external circumstances, it’s always available – especially when you fall flat on your face!  Research indicates that in comparison to self-esteem, self-compassion is associated with greater emotional resilience, more accurate self-concepts, more caring relationship behavior, as well as less narcissism and reactive anger”

Self-Coaching Challenge: Determine what you need to get started on understanding the power of self-compassion. Ask how could self-compassion increase your outlook on life and what implications does it have for you becoming a better leader? 

 

 

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