Giving your best friend, a colleague or your mum advice on how to tackle a tricky life situation – that’s easy. Apply the same advice to you and your own life – that’s a battle. Why is it that showing ourselves a little understanding is next to impossible? It’s a complicated question that circles back to our ideas of self-compassion, and it’s something we can (and should try to) change. We asked life coach Naomi Arnold her advice on where this attitude comes from and how we can work to be a little kinder to ourselves.
Why aren’t we gentler on ourselves?
“People mistakenly think that self-compassion is selfish, self-indulgent and a sign of weakness – a way to make excuses for their behaviour, disregard their impact on others, or undermine taking responsibility for their behaviour. They also seem to worry that it will impact on their motivation, performance and productivity, assuming that if they are hard on themselves, they are more likely to possess solution-focused thinking, perform better, and move forward toward their goals. They worry that self-compassion will lead to laziness, more mistakes, increased ‘failure’, and an inability to achieve success.
“People mistakenly think that self-compassion is selfish, self-indulgent and a sign of weakness…”
“But in order to be self-compassionate, one first needs to be able to acknowledge that they are suffering. I sometimes wonder if this is why we avoid self-compassion too – to avoid having to think about, or examine, the pain we’re experiencing. Instead, we mistakenly think being self-critical is conducive to ‘moving on’.
“This is a shame because demonstrating self-compassion is associated with a whole range of positive psychological outcomes and benefits, including increased optimism, happiness, resilience, personal initiative, sense of connectedness, and decreased depression, anxiety and unhealthy perfectionism.”
Do you come across this often via your coaching business?
“Yes, I absolutely do come across this in coaching – especially when working with clients who are highly self-critical, have low self-esteem, and struggle with self-confidence. They are often perfectionists, are kind and generous, incredibly giving, struggle to maintain personal and professional boundaries, and find it almost impossible to say ‘no’ or to prioritise their personal needs.
“Demonstrating self-compassion is associated with a whole range of positive psychological outcomes and benefits, including increased optimism, happiness, resilience, personal initiative, sense of connectedness.”
“A number of clients have experienced chronic illnesses or are going through a major transition or event in their life (e.g., sudden pregnancy, divorce, or being made redundant at work). They often hold high expectations for themselves, especially if they had been high-achievers prior to becoming unwell or experiencing the significant life event. They would become highly self-critical if they didn’t maintain the same level of productivity, motivation and personal achievement that they had previously held. They seemed to think that self-compassion would mean letting their illness or shift in life circumstance ‘win’, becoming lazy, not fully committing to their goals, and letting go of their identity as a high-performer.”
How can we show ourselves the same niceties and kindness we show others?
“In practising self-compassion, we don’t ignore our inner critic – we don’t shame it, beat ourselves up, nor continue to harshly judge ourselves. Instead, we speak to our inner critic as we would to a friend or a supportive mentor, showing ourselves positive self-regard despite the challenges we are experiencing. I would encourage you to ask yourself: How would I treat my best friend in this situation?
“If you are struggling with self-compassion, reading the work of Dr Kristen Neff might also be helpful. She also says that ‘with self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give a good friend’.
“Speak to our inner critic as we would to a friend or a supportive mentor, showing ourselves positive self-regard despite the challenges we are experiencing.”
“With my clients who are highly self-critical and struggle with self-compassion, I ask them to complete the below exercise. Grab a pen, paper and a cup of tea, and take a moment to ponder these questions. In your answers lies your ability to be nicer to yourself.
How to go easier on yourself
Become aware: Identify the negative thought or self-criticism and what triggered it to speak in the first place.
Assess the negative thought: Is the story really true? Is it a full truth? Is it a part-truth? Is there any evidence to support that it’s true or not true?
Reframe the negative thought: What is an equally or more plausible outcome or truth? What is a more positive and helpful reframe? If I was my most confident self? What would I say?
Act now: What is one thing I can do to move out of this self-critical state and move forward? How can I treat myself with self-compassion? What can I do to show myself more kindness?