We Believe What We Tell Ourselves
The 'little voice' inside our minds is extremely powerful. This voice is present when we are children, and it's modeled after the voices of our parents and caregivers. In adolescent years, this voice is further influenced by our peers and role models. We internalize the voices of important people and add them to our own. If the important voices were critical and condemning, our internal voice is likely to be similar. If the voices were compassionate and encouraging, our own voice will be more gentle and loving.
Over time, this internal voice becomes the voice of our self-worth and self-confidence and for better or worse, we believe what it says. This voice has significant impacts on our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. For example, if our internal voice is negative and critical, we may often compare ourselves to others and constantly think and feel like we’re ‘not good enough’.
Self-Compassion Makes Things Easier
Self-compassion allows you to recognize reality in a loving, gentle way that also supports positive change. There is a substantial and growing body of research that shows that self-compassion is the key to changing our internal voice and increasing our self-worth and self-confidence. It’s how we go from saying “I’m such an idiot for screwing that up” to “I am good enough. I’m human, and I make mistakes. That’s ok”. Even better, through self-compassion, we learn to actually believe the positive things we say! And no, that doesn’t mean you’ll be full of yourself or conceited - you’ll simply see your flaws and be able to accept them in a healthy way.
Self-compassion practices are how we learn to be kind to ourselves, which in turn allows us to lower our stress levels and be more present in our day-to-day lives. Over time, you’ll notice that you’re happier with yourself and less stressed when life gets tough. On a personal note, these practices have changed how I see myself, and how I interact with others. I’ve become a better spouse, a better parent, a better friend, and a better therapist.
How Do I Do It?
Self-compassion practices can begin as a way of speaking to yourself in the same way you would speak to a good friend or child. We would rarely speak as harshly to others as we do to ourselves. If someone else were to make a mistake, hopefully you would say something like “Mistakes happen, you’ll do better next time”, instead of “You idiot, what were you thinking?!”
Speaking to yourself in a more kind, compassionate way takes practice if you’re not used to it. It can take weeks or months of unlearning the bad habit of negativity to turn it into the healthy habit of speaking to yourself in a kind, supportive way.
Where Do I Begin?
Here are the first steps I teach clients:
If you’re unsure about all of this, test how self-compassionate you are by taking this quiz. Leading researcher, Dr. Kristin Neff, has developed this (and many other wonderful resources) on her website for public use.
Begin by noticing when you say something negative, critical, or harsh to yourself. Don’t judge yourself for it or get upset, just notice when it happened, what you said, and how it came about. Spend a week or two just noticing.
When you’ve gotten good at noticing it, begin to catch yourself saying the negative thing, then pause, and turn it into something more compassionate and understanding. For example: Instead of saying “Dummy! Why did I do that?!” (or something more vulgar), pause, and rephrase it to “I messed up. Everyone makes mistakes. I’ll make sure to do better next time.” Try this first in one area of life, so that you have a chance to practice. Keep practicing for a few weeks.
Once you realize you’re getting better at catching yourself and turning it into something compassionate, begin to spread that to other areas of your life. It may be changing what you say to yourself when you look in the mirror - from something critical to something kind. Or, it may be how you think of your parenting as “not good enough” (because perfection is not a realistic parenting goal!), to “I’m doing the best I can and that’s good enough”. It may be related to work, your spouse, or balancing all you have to do in a week. At this point it can be helpful to read Dr. Neff’s book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, for specific tools and support as you build this new habit into your life.
Remember this is a practice. It requires practice! Long-term change of any kind goes slowly and takes time. You will ABSOLUTELY mess it up. You’ll be harsh at times, or critical of yourself. This happens to everyone. If you keep up with it, over time it will improve and become a new, healthier habit.
To continue on the journey toward improving yourself through self-compassion, feel free to contact me for further steps in the process and accountability along the way.
Remember, you’re human. We all are. This means we’re constantly learning to do better. Taking care of yourself and being kind matters, so just keep practicing.
I’m here if you want to talk. Take care!