How do we recover from feeling bad about ourselves regarding our mistakes, our rejections, limitations, or fights with our partner or friends? Finding freedom means choosing to respond with greater self-compassion or kindness rather than beating ourselves up with self-criticism and judgements.  This is very difficult to do in our culture that says motivation requires self-criticism.  Self-compassion gets confused with self-pity, fear of weakness, self-indulgence or lower standards.  As individuals we believe we must make judgements about our human failings so we will be willing to look at our mistakes and take responsibility and do better next time. However recent research by Kristin Neff, has shown that self-compassion is a more effective motivator than self-criticism.  Feeling compassionate toward ourselves when we have "failed" or fallen short actually makes it easier to look at our mistakes.  The motivation with self-compassion is one toward greater health and well-being compared to the motivation with self-criticism, which is actually fear-based and leaves people feeling both a fear of failure and unworthy.  Self-criticism gives us the illusion of control and the belief that we should never have things go wrong.  Yet somewhere deep inside, we all know that is impossible!

So we are all familiar with self-criticism and the "inner critic" just waiting to beat us up.  What does being self-compassionate look like?  Self-compassion has three components as defined by the researcher, Dr. Neff.  Self-compassion is being kind to self rather than using self-judgement, recognizing your common humanity rather than feeling isolated, and accepting, with awareness, what is happening in the moment, rather than getting overidentified with an experience.  Self-compassion focuses on self-acceptance rather than self-improvement.  And, as my first favorite therapist, Carl Rogers, said, "the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I can change."  It's so interesting to be reminded that when you feel loved as you are, you feel free to change and grow.  Self-compassion is linked to well-being in that it reduces anxiety, depression, and stress, and increases optimism, creativity and gratitude.

So if you want to experiment, the next time you hear or feel yourself criticizing what you said or did, or didn't do or should have said, see if you can simply pause.  STOP the chatter and take a deep breath. Put your hand over your heart and breathe into your pain.  (our body knows how to respond)  With kindness, acknowledge how difficult the situation feels.  Maybe you say to yourself, "that interview was difficult" or "I never did a project like that before" or "I was too tired and stressed and blew up at my partner."  O.K.  So now remind yourself that life isn't perfect and neither are you.  Remind yourself that you are not the first or only one to feel this way.  Validate whatever feeling you may be having and just include them.  You may say, " I felt so inadequate when I didn't get the job," or "that feedback from the boss really hurt when I had worked so hard"  or "when I am tense I easily argue."  Keep breathing and being gentle with yourself in this pain.  Remember, even if you wished you had made a different choice, or that the circumstances were different, if you include your feelings of disappointment or anger and accept, with self-compassion, that you did the best you could at the time, you will feel some measure of new freedom from your suffering.  This acceptance will later allow you to more easily consider what else you may need to practice or learn for the kind of work you want to do or the kind of partnership you want to keep creating.  It may feel less difficult to evaluate what you could do differently and how to re-focus on your goals.