I am forever amazed at how I seem to end up, in exactly the place I need be to hear, learn, read, witness…something that cracks my mind open to a new way of thinking.
This past Sunday, my husband and I headed off to meet friends for a day at the lake. I made the plans forgetting that we had committed to attend an informational meeting for a local non-profit on mindfulness started by a passionate mother, who lost her son to suicide. We spent a few hours splashing in the water and all too soon, had to make the 1 ½ hour drive home.
The meeting turned out to not be what we expected at all – an informational meeting about the non-profit and instead we heard a presentation by two lovely women who created a certification program for adults to teach mindfulness and self-compassion to teens. Fabulous topic, but the little voice in my head was saying “I wish we would have stayed at the lake longer”.
As the women began talking, my thoughts traveled back to age 19 and my own attempt at suicide. I have often thought that if I understood I wasn’t the only one struggling and that I wasn’t alone in feeling the way I was feeling, I never would have swallowed that huge hand full of sleeping pills. 35 years later my motivation for sharing ‘what’s real’ came from my belief that if I had heard other people talking about what was challenging them, the choice I made would have been very different.
I began practicing mindfulness eight years ago. Mindfulness is a powerful transformational tool and with my increased self-awareness; my self-respect, self-love, self-esteem and self-care has grown exponentially, but self-compassion has not been a part of my vocabulary. I am kind to myself, I take care of myself, but…after watching a series of videos on self-compassion by Kristen Neff, PhD I learned something I don’t do. And not doing this, leads to me occasionally being my own worst enemy.
Here’s what I discovered via Kristen Neff’s TED Talk: The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion, which I never would have heard about, had I not been at the exact place I needed to be – that meeting and not splashing in the lake.
Self Esteem – high self-esteem can be problematic.In American culture, you have to feel special and above average. Self-esteem is contingent on success. Egad!
For women, the #1 domain in which women gain self-esteem – appearance.
Self Esteem asks how am I different (unique) from others. Self-compassion asks, how am I the same as others. One of the ways we are the same is we are human. To be human is to be imperfect – a shared human experience (common humanity). We make it worse by feeling we are isolated in our imperfection, when this is actually what connects us.
Self-compassion is a way of relating to ourselves kindly. Embracing ourselves, flaws and all.
Mindfulness – being with what is, in the present moment.
Often, we don’t notice the pain we are in, because we are so busy criticizing ourselves. We believe we need our self-criticism to motivate ourselves. If we are too kind to ourselves, we’ll be self-indulgent and lazy.
Practicing self-compassion – the part I was missing.
Thankfully, I beat myself up way less often than in years gone past however, when I’ve done something, or experienced something that is upsetting, I immediately go into problem solving mode (Kelly Neff mentions in her video’s that this is a common response) and what I don’t do, is pause and reflect on how I am feeling and acknowledge my feelings before solving whatever the issue is. I don’t stop and give myself a hug. I don’t give my feelings the time of day – I move on to the solution. My lesson is to pause and acknowledge my feelings.
Kelly Neff, PhD, teaches that the easiest way to understand self-compassion is imagine whatever has prompted you to douse yourself with criticism, has happened to a friend. How would you talk to them? Talk this way to yourself.
Self-criticism is emotional and mental clutter worth letting go of and an excellent step towards creating more spaciousness (and kindness) in your life. I mean think about it, when we are criticizing ourselves we are creating incessant chatter that only accomplishes one thing – a bummer of an experience.
A Daily Practice: For the rest of the week (and then forever) when you begin to criticize yourself do this:
#2: Imagine you are using the same words with a friend – how does this feel?
#3: Acknowledge what you are really feeling – disappointment, frustration, fear, insecurity.
#4: Talk to yourself with the same level of kindness you would with a friend.
Gold star move: Watch Kelly Niff’s 5-part video series (each video is less than 5 minutes).
Scroll down the page to find the videos. Her TED talk is excellent as well.