Don't be so hard on yourself

Why are we so hard on ourselves? Pushing, prodding, and criticizing ourselves is mainstream.

Despite what we’ve come to believe, living with an inner drill-sergeant, whose mission is to make us better and whip us into shape, isn’t the most effective route to self-improvement or living a happy, healthy, fulfilled life. 

So much has changed recently, but the pervasive habit of self-judgment and criticism has not. Being hard on ourselves, never feeling like we’re enough, is a societal norm.

We want to feel good about ourselves, to have a healthy self-esteem, yet we often speak to ourselves in ways that not only keep us stuck in the stress response, but diminish our ability to feel good. 

Do you want to be happier and more peaceful? Then, be a radical for change by challenging your old beliefs. Peace and happiness are an inside job!

So often we spend more of our mental and emotional coin ruminating on what didn’t go well than what went right.

A habit of self-attack isn’t helpful for positive change, and it has negative consequences to our mental, emotional, and physical health, as well as our relationships with others. Self-compassion is the antidote.

We’ve been steeped in a culture that leads us to believe self-kindness and self-compassion will make us weak, lazy, and selfish. Research reveals this isn’t true. 

Research also shows learning to be compassionate with ourselves:

  • reduces anxiety and depression 
  • increases happiness and optimism
  • reduces the stress response
  • improves our physical health
  • creates greater resiliency 
  • increases our self-esteem
  • supports us in making and sustaining healthy changes
  • increases our tendency to be kinder to others

Learning to become self-compassionate takes practice. Breaking the habit of self-criticism begins with becoming mindful and aware of the nature of our self-talk. We’re often unaware of the constant thread of self-critical thoughts because we’ve practiced them for so long. 

Observing the nature of our thoughts in a curious and non-judgmental way is the place to start. 

Please don’t believe everything you think. For the most part they’re just neuropathways we’ve practiced over and over, and many of our thoughts aren’t even true. And, for Pete’s sake, don’t fall into the habit of criticizing your self-critical thoughts! This keeps us stuck in the same negative loop. 

A wonderful practice is to pause and list three things that did go well each day. This simple act helps to rewire our brains to consider the positive. 

To err is human, to forgive divine. 

Recognizing we’re all human, and that we all make mistakes and stumble is important. Often when something goes wrong, or we make a mistake, it’s so easy to perseverate on it and blow it out of proportion. Learn to hold these bloopers and failings a little lightly. Remember none of us are perfect and mistakes happen. Apologize when necessary.

The next step is offering yourself the same care and compassion as someone you really care about. 

Becoming your own best friend is a radical act that can change your life for the better.

We’d never be as unkind to another person as we are to ourselves, so learning to become our own best friend is important. What would you say to someone you love and care about when they’re hurting? We all have that wise counsellor within, now we can use it for ourselves.

When we are kind and compassionate with ourselves, we become more compassionate with others. Becoming compassionate with ourselves creates better conditions for us to grow and flourish. 

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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