To survive in this crazy, high-pressured world, many of us learn to become highly skilled at self-criticism. We learn how to berate ourselves for our failures, for not working hard or smart enough, and for not getting it together fast or well enough. We are so good at this that sometimes we are in the danger of falling into the far excessive version of self-criticism, into self-flagellation. Self-flagellation is rather a dangerous form of self-criticism, which can quickly usher in depression and under-performance to the extent that it might become difficult to get out of bed.
But what if, in place of self-criticism, we turn toward self-compassion and learn the art of self-care?
And two become one.
Love they say is an action word, which means it’s productive. Therefore, productive love implies a collection of attitudes; made up of care, responsibility, respect and knowledge. If I love, I care – that is, I am actively concerned with another’s growth and happiness; I am not a spectator. I am not a passenger – there are two drivers in the journey. It also means that I am responsible, I respond to his needs, to those he can express and more so to those he cannot or does not express. I respect him; I look at him as he is, objectively and not distorted by my wishes and fears. I know him; I have gone past the surface to the core of his being and relate to him from my own core, from the centre (to me, this is the ideal).
Care. Responsibility. Respect. Knowledge.
If we can only find a way to turn this love for another toward ourselves, become reacquainted with self-compassion and self-care, we’d discover that kindness and gentleness toward ourselves are vital in building a good and fruitful life. We need to re-learn the value of intentional moments of self-compassion; we need to appreciate the role of self-care in a good, ambitious and fruitful life. So I learned this self-compassion exercise that I’d like to share.
Commit to a structured Meditation (lasting 15 minutes or so) where you turn over a sequence of thoughts in your mind that will correct the worst self-accusations of your sadder moments. It is indeed possible to fail without concluding that you are an idiot.
- In order to become gentler with yourself, especially when you fail at something, you have to learn to keep the right perspective with the challenges you’re involved in. We’re so in love with success that sometimes we fail to notice the scale of the goal or challenge we have set for ourselves.
- Consider your history – you may not be entirely to blame if you understand the factors that have shaped who you are. Perhaps, there were things that happened to you at the hands of others which can help to explain your current failures. You are not responsible for everything. You are in part a victim of things beyond your control.
- Whatever task you engage yourself in has a high possibility of failure. I always try to remember this line from Matthew Arnold’s poem: ‘Better men fared thus before you’, people who are even more talented than you didn’t succeed. It isn’t that you are a fool: it was probably quite a mountain to climb.
- Also consider the luck factor, or favor, if you will. We rub ourselves of fair and genuine consolation when we believe that we are entirely in control and therefore, entirely to blame if we crash or fail.
- Life would be easier if you can learn to detach your worth from external things; easier said than done, right? Seriously, the love you have for yourself should come with no pre-requisites because you are not only your achievements. Status and material success is only one part of you. Looks and all other seemingly important social standards don’t have to define your worth.
- There may be a way out of the problem that you haven’t quite seen. You are exhausted, you are panicked. You can’t see for sure how you could move on from this. That’s not the truth; you can move on from anything. It’s merely how it feels when self-criticism has destroyed every bit of confidence, especially when perfectionism is a yardstick. You need time without pressure. You need to sleep and nurture yourself. You might have grown too good at giving the case to the prosecution in your head. Shut out the voice of Duty and Anger.
Self-compassion is different from saying you are innocent. It doesn’t mean absolving you of any responsibility. It means trying to be gentle and understanding about why you failed. Yes you did fail, but you deserve to exist with dignity and to be understood and maybe forgiven, it’s a fundamental right for us all. If the failure has a moral angle to it, then you know God forgives you… so let yourself off the hook.