“What is this self inside us, this silent observer,
Severe and speechless critic, who can terrorize us
And urge us on to futile activity
And in the end, judge us still more severely
For the errors into which his own reproaches drove us?”
– T.S. Eliot, The Elder Statesman
I am thinking about self-compassion this week as I see a lot of suffering around me in its absence. Studies have shown that self-criticism is strongly related to depression and dissatisfaction with life. I didn’t know where to start so I turned to my trusted source as I always do: my better half. Here is his journal:
I used to think of self-compassion as indulgent. But in the book “If the Buddha got stuck”, it asks, how would you treat a friend who is talking to themselves in that harsh way? So aren’t you your own best supporter? If not, who is? And will they always be there to stop you from beating yourself up? I really started to realize that how we think dictates what we are able to achieve. If you are telling yourself how stupid you are, you are going to give up and stop trying. And that limits you.
Compassion for yourself is not self-pity. We are simply recognizing that ‘this is difficult and it hurts’. Then bring the same warmhearted wish you would bring to a dear friend dealing with the same pain or challenges as you.
“Compassion isn’t some kind of self-improvement project or ideal that we’re trying to live up to. Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections that we don’t even want to look at.” —Pema Chödron
Here is a reflection from one of my teachers, the self-compassion guru Kristin Neff. First we identify what we really want. Think about the ways that you use self-criticism as a motivator. Is there any personal trait that you criticize yourself for having (too overweight, too lazy, too impulsive, etc.) because you think being hard on yourself will help you change? If so, first try to get in touch with the emotional pain that your self-criticism causes, giving yourself compassion for the experience of feeling so judged.
Now, see if you can think of a kinder, more caring way to motivate yourself to make a change if needed. What language would a wise and nurturing friend, parent, teacher, or mentor use to gently point out how your behavior is unproductive, while simultaneously encouraging you to do something different? What is the most supportive message you can think of that’s in line with your underlying wish to be healthy and happy?
Every time you catch yourself being judgmental about your unwanted trait, first notice the pain of your self-judgment and give yourself compassion. Then try to reframe your inner dialogue so that it is more encouraging and supportive. Remember that if you really want to motivate yourself, love is more powerful than fear.
Herman Hess writes in About love
You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single salvation… and that is called loving. Well then, love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts nothing else.