There are many days when I feel disappointed in myself. Even angry. Frustrated that I ate too much, that I wasn’t brave, that I made a mistake, that I snapped at a loved one, that I didn’t clean, that I didn’t work enough, that I didn’t do that many reps of an exercise, that I’m not strong enough.
There are days I’m overwhelmed. Days I’m unsure or irritated. Days I think I’ve gained weight, and I wear my disappointment like a coat. All of us have these days. The details may be different, but the berating and bashing and judging and sadness may be the same.
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
On these days, we can turn things around. We can be less harsh and more kind. Because what we say to ourselves matters. We don’t need to be fake and pretend we love our bodies or we love our mistakes. We can say what’s both true and compassionate. Below, are two sentences and a question that might help. And if they don’t, consider brainstorming your own sentences and questions:
I am not alone.
When we’re upset or overwhelmed or going through a terrible situation, we often think we’re alone. We think we’re the only ones who struggle with liking our bodies and ourselves. We think we’re the only ones who’ve experienced a gut-wrenching loss. We’re the only ones who feel self-doubt. Who don’t know what we want. Who are at a crossroads. Who’ve made mistakes. Big ones.
We just feel so alone. So we assume we are. Whatever you’re struggling with, others are, too. Many others.
I just wrote this piece about practicing self-compassion when you’re struggling with anxiety. Here’s an excerpt on the Buddhist practice of Tonglen. You can substitute any word for anxiety.
According to Miller, this practice is about showing compassion to yourself and others when you see you’re suffering: On your inhale, breathe in anxiety as you imagine all the other people who are struggling with anxiety in this moment. On your exhale, breathe out peace of mind, or whatever else you need, for yourself and others who also are longing for relief.
Most of us want to ignore or eliminate our anxiety, so it might feel counterintuitive to breathe it in, Miller said. However, this practice meets you where you currently are: accepting that in this moment, you and countless others are “having this particular human experience called anxiety.”
For Miller, this practice instantly helps her feel less alone and more connected to her humanity.
Research Kristin Neff, Ph.D, refers to this as “common humanity,” which she includes as part of her definition of self-compassion. (See more here and here.)
I feel ________.
One of the kindest things we can do for ourselves is to to tune into ourselves, to listen to what’s happening beneath the surface. One of the kindest things we can do for ourselves is to acknowledge our feelings. This starts with getting quiet, taking a deep breath, and naming what you feel. Sad. Disappointed. Afraid. Alone. Unsure. Uninspired. Annoyed.
Then whatever you’re feeling, try to sit with it. This might be hard. It might feel very unfamiliar and foreign and you might resist it. Sitting with our feelings takes practice. And for many of us we simply haven’t had the practice. But we can change that.
What can I learn?
Lately, I’ve been trying to reframe my disappointments, failures, frustrations and mistakes into lessons I can learn. Instead of bashing myself for making a bad decision or a “stupid mistake,” I’m reminding myself that this is how we improve, grow and flourish. I’m reminding myself that I’m not perfect, and depending on my mood, how much I’ve slept, what I’ve done that day and a number of other factors, I may not act in the best way.
What matters most is how we move on, how we move forward. Instead of getting stuck in self-criticism, I’m trying to refocus on empowering myself: OK, so I failed, I did something wrong, what can I learn from this for next time, for tomorrow? How can I act differently from now on? What do I need to do better?
For so many of us self-criticism is like breathing: Natural, automatic, knee-jerk. That’s why self-compassion takes practice. We need to pause, to push the brake on the high-speed train.
The good news is that we can start today. This very minute. We can start by exploring how we talk to ourselves. Then we can consider a few self-compassionate statements or questions we can add.