I am my own worst critic. I can be kind and understanding of others in almost any situation. I’m willing to see other points of view and change my mind and my heart about something if someone presents a good case for it. I think I’m a generally compassionate person when it comes to others making mistakes or being in a process of learning new things. I’ve been told in the past that I will give anyone the benefit of the doubt. I don’t do a great job of translating this to working with myself, however.
I’ve read articles and books about how to develop compassion in everyday life, how to take another’s perspective, how to be kind even when you don’t understand. We teach children how to be good friends by learning empathy and compassion for others. We can see memes on the internet and messages all around us reminding us to be kind to others. I think they’re wonderful, and I love the positive reminders. But I wonder how truly compassionate we can be to others if we aren’t also compassionate with ourselves.
I find myself most vulnerable to a lack of compassion towards myself when I am under stress, tired, or when life is difficult for me. My outlook towards the world turns negative and I turn that inward. And it’s often hard to see that I’ve moved so far in that direction until I’ve gone too far. For me, it starts with disparaging remarks about myself, mostly silently and only in my head. Then they become more frequent and it seems like I can’t do anything well. Eventually my outlook on the world around me changes into one of negative expectations instead of my normal acceptance of life, such as it is. The expectations I have, of course, directly affect how I approach my own life and interactions with others, and then the cycle becomes hard to break.
So how does one develop compassion for one’s self? Just like anything else it takes time and patience. Self-compassion is a concerted effort to be kind and understanding to ourselves. And when we fail at it, which we most certainly will, to be even more kind and understanding towards ourselves because this is not easy.
Notice how you talk to yourself inside of your own head. If you find you spend a good amount of time talking to yourself disparagingly, find small things that you feel you do well, and compliment yourself on that. Once you become comfortable with that, you can expand. Even when we feel the most unskillful, there is something small we have done well. Learn to talk to yourself as you would to a good friend. Find ways to understand your own mistakes and foibles as you would in others.
I find that having a sense of humor about myself is also very useful. If I can laugh about something I’ve said or done, it allows me to forgive myself more easily. A sense of humor is also contagious, and I find I can expand it to other areas of my life and change my perspective in those ways, too.
Finally, relax. Take some time to do things that feed your soul. When you feel depleted and tired, it’s hard to give anything to yourself much less to anyone else. The act of taking time for yourself is absolutely an act of self-compassion, understanding what you need and being kind enough to make that happen.