How you speak to yourself changes everything. I sometimes imagine a scenario in which all of our private self-talk is hooked up to a loudspeaker for the rest of the world to hear. What would it sound like? For many of us, it might sound something like this:
“What and idiot – why did you do that?”
“Why can’t you be as good as that person over there?”
“It’s because you’re too stupid.”
“You’ll never be able to do this.”
I wouldn’t say these things to someone I loved. So why would I entertain, even for a moment, the idea of speaking to myself in this way?
Is it possible to imagine that our inner critic could become a supportive voice? I think so. But first we need to develop our self-compassion. In order to do this, it’s important we learn to understand exactly what prevents us from doing so: the negative beliefs we hold about ourselves and what it means to be compassionate.
Here are ten unhelpful beliefs that commonly prevent people from developing self-compassion:
Belief #1: Self-compassion means wallowing in pity
Compassion is absolutely not about pity. Self-compassion asks that we acknowledge the strength and resilience we have shown in challenging situations. The word ‘wallowing’ implies an indulgence of some sort, whereas self-compassion is about realising that it is necessary to feel certain emotions in order to heal, and to work through them at our own pace.
Belief #2: Self-compassion is soft and weak
Being sensitive to the distress that we, and others, may feel and being motivated to alleviate it is not a sign of weakness. Compassion can be soft and gentle, but to define it only as this would be wrong, as it also takes strength and courage. It has a backbone of steel!
Belief #3: Self-compassion is selfish or self-centred
People are often surprised to find that self-compassion often brings with it a greater capacity to be there for others. This is because you create a mind that is supportive rather than in conflict with itself. When you experience the calmer waters of self-compassion, you’re better able to explore, try new things, and take risks. This includes reaching out to others and understanding different perspectives.
Belief #4: Self-compassion is undeserved
The belief that you do not deserve self-compassion may come from yourself, or from how others have treated you in the past. Emotionally connecting with the reality that that your genetic make-up, life experience and living environment is not of your choosing can help you to see that we’re all deserving of compassion.
Belief #5: Self-compassion is about always putting my needs above the needs of others
Sometimes it’s good to put the needs of others before your own (for example, if you are a parent). But things become tricky when we perpetually put the needs of others first. Our wellbeing can suffer and we may feel a sense of anger or resentment. We may feel taken for granted or uncared for – and then beat ourselves up about it. Compassion is about striking up a balance between our own needs and the needs of others.
Belief #6: Self-compassion means abdicating responsibility
Self-compassion doesn’t mean that we relinquish responsibility or excuse our own actions. In fact, when we practice compassion we are more likely to put ourselves on the hook and take responsibility for the things we do. Taking a compassionate stance means being sensitive to the difficulties we and others face, and being motivated to do something about it.
Belief #7: Self-compassion sets me up for a fall
Individuals may believe that positive experiences precipitate something negative happening, and if caught unawares, that they will be unprepared and therefore the negative impact will be greater. Working on self-compassion does not trigger negative life events occurring. It’s actually the opposite: the presence of compassion can actually decrease your tendency for conflict and disappointment.
Belief #8: Self-compassion is too hard or too overwhelming
Self-compassion isn’t all hearts and flowers. It involves being sensitive to our distress and being motivated to do something about it. This can be very painful. At such times, it is important to remember that ‘being with’ and ‘staying with’ our pain can be everything we need in that moment.
Belief #9: Self-compassion means people will take advantage of me
Thanks to the human brain and it’s ‘better safe than sorry’ default setting, our threat system often ends up running the show. Self-compassion can actually make our threat system run more efficiently; it makes us wiser and helps us decide when we need to put our guard up and when we don’t. This means we’re better able to detect when someone is taking advantage of us, and we are more skilled to deal with such situations in order to resolve them.
Belief #10: Self-compassion means… no more negative thoughts?
When people begin developing self-compassion, they may feel they are failing because they still experience strong emotions or even feel more of them. However, compassion involves opening ourselves up to strong emotions rather than suppressing them. It involves being aware of any negative thoughts that occupy our mind, and using our compassionate mind to do something (or nothing!) about it.
In my next post, I am going to write about how we can begin to develop our self-compassion. Stay tuned!