With all of us at home in stressful circumstances it is particularly important that we encourage ourselves in our efforts to manage the challenges.
Each of us will be trying to show kindness to the members of our family—but it is also important to show kindness towards oneself.
Generally there are two obstacles to treating ourselves kindly:
- The commentary that runs in our heads telling us that we are falling short in so many ways
- Our wish to do everything perfectly—to seem perfect oneself
We know that when we experience stress our bodies have evolved to respond by fighting back, running away, or freezing in place and hoping it passes us by. However, when we are faced with a so-called threat which comes from our own mind – our inner mental and emotional functioning – rather than an outside stressor, the ‘fight’ response can become self-criticism:
- The ‘flight’ response becomes self-isolation
- The ‘freeze’ response leads to us getting caught up in our own thoughts to the extent that we are notable to act and a tendency to become self-absorbed
The practice of self-compassion could be said to have three main elements:
- Self-kindness: being gentle and understanding with ourselves
- Recognizing our common humanity: feeling connected to others rather than isolated by our suffering and pain
- Mindfulness: holding our experience with a balanced perspective, neither exaggerating our experience, nor avoiding it
These three elements of self-compassion can act as antidotes to the harmful effects of our stress response.
- Self-kindness acts as an antidote to the fight response of self-criticism
- Recognizing our common humanity is an antidote to the flight response of self-isolation
- Mindfulness is an antidote to freezing, trapped in our fears and becoming self-absorbed
Self-kindness helps us work with our habit of self-criticism
We talk about ourselves to ourselves in a much harsher way than we would talk to anyone else. In fact, if we were to say out loud to someone else the kind of things, we say to ourselves we would probably be deeply shocked.
We push ourselves harder than we would push any work colleague, child or friend, and yet we still do not feel we are doing as well as we should. This can be because we carry memories from our childhood of being punished for getting things wrong with our parents or teachers, and this can leave us with a fear of being rejected in our adult life. This makes us try even harder to fit in and be good enough.
It’s really only when someone else tells us we are doing well, or praises something we’ve done, that for a moment we feel some ease. Then the next thing happens, and our self-criticism starts up again. It’s as if we do not believe in our own accomplishments unless another person confirms them for us.
Here is an exercise you can try to work with your inner critic