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  • Self-Compassion for People Who Hate Self-Compassion

    by David Yood, Psy.D.

    Self-compassion makes many people’s skin crawl, but why? Why would someone hate the idea of being kind to yourself? Sometimes we feel we don’t deserve compassion. Sometimes we feel that it’s all a bunch of fluff. However, if you struggle with shame, maybe you feel you don’t deserve it because you feel like it allows you to make excuses for your shortcomings. It’s as if you’re giving yourself carte blanche to screw up as often as you do.

    To be fair, some misuse self-compassion in this way. They’re few and far between, but you can usually find people misconstruing self-compassion on instagram fairly easily, and it becomes inspiration to ensure you’re not like them. But fear not, self-compassion doesn’t have to be any of that nonsense. Instead, it can be a crucial tool for learning and improving.

    So let’s say you make a mistake. You don’t complete your therapy homework, you botched a work assignment, you take a wrong turn, you hurt someone you care about, etc. Why should you practice self-compassion here? Simple: when exactly in your life has being a jerk to yourself changed your behavior? Take a moment to think about this! When you make a mistake and you beat yourself up, has that prevented the mistake from happening again on any significant scale? Sure, maybe you’re more mindful for a brief spell, but does that sustain itself? Or do you just end up feeling sorry for yourself, or miserable about how you blew it?

    If you’re being honest with yourself and the answer is no, then perhaps self-compassion can be something you practice from a utility perspective. You can use it because it works, not because it’s froofy. Instead of taking yourself to task for botching the work assignment, the response could be something like “I blew it. I tried to do X and instead I did Y. I can sit here and throw myself a pity party, or I can accept that people, myself included, make mistakes. Instead of spending my time taking myself down a peg, let me figure out where I erred, see what I can learn from it, and move on. What good does wallowing do to my next assignment?” Every moment you spend trash talking yourself is a moment you waste not fixing or learning from the screw-up.

    Notice what the above has and doesn’t have. It does NOT include:

    • Everything’s fine

    • Everything will be fine

    • You’re good enough, smart enough, and doggone it people like you

    Who are we kidding, you could tell yourself these things but you wouldn’t believe it, and saying something you don’t believe will just frustrate you even further. Let’s spend our time on things you can actually believe, like:

    • I didn’t get it right

    • This makes me human, and that can be humbling to come face to face with imperfections

    • Being unkind myself doesn’t change the fact that the mistake happened, or that it could happen again. It serves no direct purpose

    • Learning from the mistake is the only thing I have, so in order to get better I have to let go and accept that it happened, while trying to set myself up to do better

    • Time to figure out what that could look like

    Practice incorporating these behaviors into your life when you inevitably err. See what happens when you do. Notice how it feels. Do you feel imperfect and vulnerable? Good. That’s where the growth happens.