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Be kind to yourself

Berating oneself and engaging in self-blame does little to repair problematic situations, and will only increase stress

Why did I mess up that exam? I am so stupid. I can’t believe that I lost my passport; I really am scatterbrained. When will I be organised enough to live on my own? Most of my friends know what they are doing after graduation. Only I seem to be dilly-dallying with options. Why can’t I get my act together?

Often, we are our own harshest critics. We hold ourselves to higher standards than our peers and berate ourselves when things go wrong. But, engaging in self-blame does little to repair our situations and only aggravates stress, which, in turn, makes us prone to committing more blunders.

In fact, research suggests that we may be better off if we are kinder and more compassionate to ourselves.

In an article in The New York Times, writer Kristin Wong quotes psychologist Kristin Neff, who says, “Self-compassion is treating yourself with the same kindness, care and concern you show a loved one.” According to Dr. Neff, self-compassion not only makes us more accepting of our drawbacks but prevents us from amplifying our flaws as well. Learning to view ourselves from a more human lens can actually make us more resilient, contrary to what popular belief might have you think.

Compassion matters

Many people feel that if they are soft towards themselves, they are being self-indulgent. Further, they worry that kindness towards themselves may lower their standards and make them lethargic.

But research by Professor Neff and her colleagues, published in Self & Identity, suggest that self-compassion is positively correlated with “mastery goals.”

In an article in the Oxford Book of Compassionate Science, Kristin Neff and Christopher Garmer lay down three facets of compassion. The first, self-kindness, involves being “supportive and sympathetic toward ourselves” especially in the face of our own drawbacks or failings.

Instead of criticising our shortcomings, we should exhibit more empathy towards ourselves. Our internal self-talk should be comforting rather than confrontational.

The second aspect recognises our “common humanity” and provides a humane lens for seeing our foibles and frailties. Further, we accept that strife and struggle is part of the human condition and know that we are never alone in our grief, contrary to what the worrywart in us tells us. The third, mindfulness, allows us to remain in the present moment and view our suffering for what it is. A mindful attitude helps us dissociate ourselves from our thoughts, especially the counterproductive ones, which only serve to increase our pain.

So, the next time you lose your keys or miss the deadline for an assignment, don’t let your self-critic take over. If your best friend had committed these mistakes, what would you have advised him or her? Exercise the same compassion on yourself. Being kind towards yourself does not make you selfish. Tell yourself that everyone errs at some point or the other, and that’s an essential feature of being human. Also, learn to watch your thoughts without reacting to them in the first instant. You don’t have to believe every thought that arises in your mind. If the relentless critic in you is raising its voice, you can choose to quieten it with softer, soothing thoughts.

And, if you are feeling low, don’t despair that everyone else has it all together. Suffering and pain is universal. Even if you are feeling singled out for having one of the worst lots in life, know that there are many others who are crying with you. Just as you would reach out to help them heal, do yourself the same favour. You deserve nothing less.

The author is Director, PRAYATNA.

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Printable version | Mar 27, 2020 12:01:55 PM |

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