If you are asking this question, you must have some belief that negative self talk, self flagellation or just simply beating yourself up is a helpful device to get or keep yourself motivated. Let’s look at that more closely since most people do engage in this behavior quite frequently.
One paradoxical fallacy of lacking self compassion (often mislabeled as self esteem) is that you will fail to get something accomplished, because of the fallacy that if you don’t punish yourself enough for your perceived faults or misdeeds, your motivation will suffer, and you will fail to accomplish anything. So what typically happens? Most simply give up or give in without considering how this line of thinking contributes to that failure.
You can hide behind the excuse that it is motivating to be mean to yourself, perpetuating the cycle. These so-called valid reasons will hold you back from changing your life, or becoming more engaged and able to reach your goals. The only person you have to really measure up to is yourself. Are you better than you were yesterday? You wouldn’t even consider berating a friend who is suffering from poor habits, choices, or circumstances beyond their control, so why do you spend time kicking yourself? It isn’t especially logical, and certainly is not productive. It drains away energy that could be applied to your growth.
Self compassion is not the same as self esteem, which is a form of measurement where you compare yourself to someone else, or a group of others you believe should be your benchmark. Western society has achieved the unfortunate goal of believing we must each be special, above average, ahead of the pack–when that alone defies the logic of a normal bell curve! We are not all above average, so it is futile to pursue the sisyphean task of these eternal social comparisons. Self compassion means we as humans are all subject to what life dishes out, including our own individual struggles and trials.
Take diets for instance. How inclined are you to maintain your goal of eating healthy choices when you beat yourself up for the game day splurge or the out-of-town trip’s stream of dining out, telling yourself you will never reach your goal?
Here’s another stellar example by Kristen Neff, Ph.D., an authority on self compassion:
“I remember being at the park with my son, Rowan, when he was about 4 years old, at the peak of his autism. I was sitting on the bench, watching all the happy children playing on the swings, chasing each other, and having fun while Rowan was just sitting on the top of the slide repeatedly banging his hand (something known as stimming). Admittedly, I started to go down the path of self-pity: “Why can’t I have a ‘normal’ child like everyone else? Why am I the only one who’s having such a hard time?” But years of self-compassion practice gave me enough presence of mind to catch myself, pause, take a deep breath, and become aware of the trap I was falling into.”
“With a little distance from my negative thoughts and feelings, I looked out at the other mothers and their children and thought to myself, “I’m assuming that these kids are going to grow up with carefree, unproblematic lives, that none of these mothers will have to struggle as they raise their children. But for all I know, some of these kids could grow up to develop serious mental or physical health issues, or just turn out to be not very nice people! There’s no child who’s perfect, and no parent who doesn’t go through some form of hardship or challenge with their children at one time or another.” And at that moment, my feelings of intense isolation turned into feelings of deep connection with the other mothers at the park, and with all parents everywhere.”
Self compassion is more useful than self esteem. It is always there if you allow it, and unlike the constant comparisons we tend to make with self esteem, leads to less depression and greater satisfaction. So offer yourself a little compassion, followed up by thoughtful decision making on how to respond to whatever may be troubling you at the moment. It is a choice you always have available.
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