A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.
Christopher K. Germer
How can it be that self-compassion is so hard for most people? We are willing to give others a break, but not ourselves. How wonderful would it be if we could be as kind towards ourselves like we are to the people we love? Nowadays, when I notice that I’m self-loathing, I ask myself: what would I say to a friend? And use these words instead. It feels uncomfortable, and at the same time very comforting. When self-compassion is a habit, it will indeed change the course of your life.
Last week I logged in to my Red Tricycle account and much to my surprise, the UPV’s (Unique Page Views) of my best-read article had gone up significantly. At one point it was over 6200. Wow, this made me feel like I am actually a real writer. People want to read what I’ve written. I have something good to say.
Then, suddenly it went down to 290 UPV’s. As it turned out, there was a bug in the system and after it was fixed I had 290. I tried really hard not to be disappointed about it, but the truth: I was. Very much.
My Inner Gremlin (a.k.a. Ego) left no means untouched to burn me down to the ground. What was I thinking? Did I really think people want to read what I write? Well, you get the picture. My problem is that The Gremlin is not only obnoxiously mean and persistent, but also very loud and knows exactly when and where I’m most vulnerable.
But I decided not to give in to The Gremlin. After a moment (or two, three), I pulled myself together as much as I possibly could. I believe I do have something to say. It isn’t about that ugly little Gremlin that needs others to approve of it, it’s about helping myself and others in our struggle through life. Reminding myself that if it helps just one person, it’s worth it. The only way to beat The Gremlin is to be more persistent than it. I can do that. Yes, I may need a moment or two to catch my breath and lick my wounds, but I will get back up again.
Living in a world that values superficial things like being famous, rich, skinny, pretty etc. makes The Gremlin believe that by reaching those things it will find love and acceptance. No, The Gremlin isn’t very smart. Even if I did make it to all its goals, The Gremlin still wouldn’t be happy. It needs constant praise and admiration from others to be content. Obviously, that’s not going to happen.
And I know I’m not the only one that is being terrorized by a Gremlin. Memes like “I’m not here to be average, I’m here to be awesome” are popping up everywhere.
But, what is wrong with average? After all, average is just most common. And…if everyone is special, that means it is most common and therefore special is no longer special, but just… average. In which case you are still awesome… just like the rest. Is that so bad? Wouldn’t it be great if we all felt awesome and be ok with others feeling the same?
Isn’t that how it is? Isn’t everyone special in their own way? Yes, it’s cliché, but it’s cliché for a reason. Aren’t the people you love so much more special than a random talented person? No matter how great they are, at the end of the day it’s your loved ones that matter.
Who defines “special” anyway? What is awesome to one person, may not mean anything to another. And no matter how much you excel and how special you are, there will always be someone to disagree.
Self-esteem seems like a good tool to beat The Gremlin, right? But the thing with self-esteem is, it only goes so far. It depends on whether things go well; when one can feel better than others. Study shows that when things don’t work out as they “should”, the self-esteem diminishes and/or others are being blamed for poor judgment. Also, those people tend to get angry or defensive when they feel their ego is being threatened (yep, that’s me).
Why? Because self-esteem is based on judgement. Success means you’re good, failure means you’re bad. And honestly, how often do you beat yourself up not being good enough? It has its roots in not feeling ok with who you are and therefore you need to compare yourself with others and be better.
According to Kristin Neff the alternative is self-compassion. Compassion literally means to suffer with (derived from Latin: com means with and pati means suffer). Self-compassion is about not judging yourself, but being kind to yourself and accepting that you’re suffering instead of beating yourself up because you failed. It’s about accepting success and failure as part of life, something that happens to everyone. People who do this are better able to accept imperfections and to handle rejections because they don’t take it too personal.
As Kristin Neff says: “self-compassion is about shared humanity- it’s all about being average. It’s about being a human: We have strengths and beautiful qualities, and we have weaknesses; we succeed, we fail and it’s all part of this shared human condition.
You can be the most talented person in the world, but if you don’t know how to embrace yourself for who you are, it will never be enough. You will never be enough, what you do will never be enough, what you have will never be enough. When we accept failure is part of being human, we allow ourselves to be who we are instead of striving for acceptance by others.
Of course, if you are good, by all means enjoy it, just realize you would be worth as much without it.
Yes, it’s one of those things that is easier said than done. But challenge makes us grow. There are moments that I feel I can never beat The Gremlin. I allow myself a moment to feel and acknowledge the pain, it’s there, if I deny it, it will only grow. Then, I remind myself that I can only beat it by being more persistent than The Gremlin. That I’m only human, that I can learn from failure, that I have a lot of things to be grateful for and that doing everything to be the best me is as awesome as one can be. I can beat The Gremlin.
Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than the one with all the facts.
My 9 years old daughter has a love/hate relationship with math. When she gets it, she likes math. The problem is that if she doesn’t grasp it right away, she gets discouraged. She then thinks that she can’t do it and wants to give up.
When I was young I never learned the basics of math well. I’ve struggled with it to the point that I really hated it. Being raised with the idea that you possess a fixed capability to learn, I believed that I didn’t have a “math brain” and I just wished I was smarter.
So, when my daughter started to show aversion towards math, we knew we had to do something. Much to her dismay, we decided to have her do extra math daily. We explained to her that we did it, because we believed that she can do it, that she just needs to practice more. We told her that education isn’t about getting it at once and doing it perfectly, but rather making mistakes and learning from them. Not that it made much of a difference, to her it just felt like we were out to get her. But, at some point we noticed she was doing better at math. More importantly, she noticed it. She still didn’t like it, but she slowly started to believe that maybe she could do math.
This school year we have been very lucky with her new teacher. He tells the kids that they can learn anything and helps them to believe in themselves. Telling them, not only it’s ok to make mistakes, but that your brain actually grows most from making mistakes. And even though we have been telling her it’s ok to make mistakes, it wasn’t nearly as powerful as when her teacher said it.
Having someone else tell your child they can learn anything can be a powerful tool. Because of this wonderful teacher, we discovered Youcubed at Stanford. Here you can find all kinds of short videos about the science behind learning math (or anything else for that matter). Jo Boaler, professor of math education at Stanford University, puts an end to the myth that a lot of people still believe about (especially math) having a “math brain” (or not). She shows kids how science has taught us that anyone can learn anything, that struggle and making mistakes are good, because it makes our brain grow. She tells how believing in yourself and not giving up are important to succeed and it doesn’t matter if you’re slow. It’s about understanding what you’re doing.
Whether you’d like to stimulate your child to believe in themselves or encourage your child to make mistakes and learn from them or your child just loves science, Youcubed is a wonderful resource.
Meanwhile, the best we as parents can do, is let our kids know that we believe they can learn math or whatever else. Professor Boaler (about 5 minutes into this video) gives a great example of an experiment in which students had to write an essay. All students received critical feedback on their essay. But half of them got one sentence extra, saying: I’m giving you this feedback, because I believe in you. These students did significantly better a whole year later with no other change.
Let’s encourage our kids to dream big and let them know we believe in them.
True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
Of all the things I struggle with, self-acceptance is probably my biggest challenge. And when I look at society, I know I’m not the only one (though admittedly there are times I feel like I am). People spend a lot of money on appearance, whether it’s plastic surgery or expensive possessions, because they care how others perceive them.
We humans are wired to live together, we all have the need to belong somewhere. The question is, where do we want to fit in? Do we want to fit in in the superficial world that tv and magazines show us? The world in which being skinny, pretty, famous, successful and making a lot of money is valued?
Or do we choose to be with people who accept themselves and others the way they are and are ok with nobody being perfect (and for the record, being rude to someone under the pretense you are “just being yourself” has nothing to do with acceptance, it only shows how much you still need to learn).
It shouldn’t be a hard choice, but for many (myself included) it is. We want to feel accepted and connected to the people around us. And from a young age on, we are taught the things we need to do to fit in to earn acceptance. Boys wear blue, girls play with dolls. A boy who wants to dress up and play with dolls? Still not accepted by most people. Best case they think he’s weird, unfortunately there are still people that think it’s his own fault if he gets bullied. While really, we should be supportive, because he is being him.
Growing up, we hardly talked about feelings in my family and you certainly didn’t want to air your dirty laundry. Also, I learned that it was better to take yourself down, so that someone else couldn’t. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that no one else can take me down, unless I let them. Only you have the power to take you down, either by doing it yourself, or giving your power to someone else.
And of course, as with most things, the concept is simple, yet the realization may be a little more challenging.
Authentic me, I’m still looking for me. I was 9 when my parents divorced and I was the oldest of three. My mother was very depressed and I felt responsible for both her and my siblings. The result was that I identified so strongly with my mother that when I went to live on my own I literally had no clue who I was. Usually puberty is the time when we take distance from our parents to develop our identity. Not me, I did what I thought would help my mother, be a nice girl, not make any trouble, be there for her when she needed me, look after my brother and sister. And somewhere along the way I lost myself.
When I realized, I literally did not know who I was, I started working on myself. I read books and went into therapy. Slowly, step by step, I am finding myself. I still have some challenges ahead, but then, I believe life is a journey and that we need to keep learning.
Keeping things to myself and putting on a mask has brought me a lot of pain and sadness, I’ve lost friends over it. Because I would always say I was doing ok, even though I wasn’t. But I felt like I couldn’t keep on saying that I wasn’t doing well. And sometimes I would actually believe myself when I said I was doing ok (I’m a little hard headed, I still do that sometimes). What did I have loose? Could thing get any worse? And so, I decided to open up and get honest about myself. Yes, it was scary, it will probably always be a little bit scary, and that’s ok. That means I’m getting out of my comfort zone.
And it was the best thing I could’ve done. I was overwhelmed by all the sweet, positive, heartfelt responses. Sometimes even from people I didn’t know. It made me realize how many people really care about me and also, how much we need one another to be open and honest, because that is the only way to really connect to others. That is the power of being authentic.
The other day I was having coffee with a friend and when we were about to leave, she said let’s get together in two weeks, I want to keep an eye on you. That was so sweet and made me feel so accepted. That morning I was ok-ish, and I felt better during our coffee, but that really made me feel cared for. That was so powerful.
I guess I must be doing something right to have a wonderful husband and some awesome friends 😊 .