We All Need Compassion…From Ourselves


I believe that a universal experience in life is that we are often extremely hard on ourselves.  We criticize ourselves for our failures and shortcomings, we devalue our strengths and contributions, and we tear at the fabric of our very being with anger and sometimes hatred.  We don’t always see this in others because this can be an internal experience, but I know that we sense it and feel it in ourselves.

When we tear at our core value as a human being we only end up with depression and frustration. It keeps us from believing in our future potential and leads to more negative thoughts and behavior.  Self-doubt causes a tremendous amount of stress as we want to have a different life but feel like it’s unattainable.

I see this dynamic so many times in my work as a career consultant. Through no fault of their own, many people are laid off of their jobs due to a downturn in their company or some type of corporate restructuring.  Talented people with incredible experience to offer will begin to doubt themselves and their ability to find another job. Some will blame themselves for not working harder or playing the office politics more effectively, but that wouldn’t have mattered.  These people are bystanders caught up in a new world of business that wants to hire and let people go on a moment’s notice.    But for many people, it’s hard to not separate themselves and their self-worth from their layoff.

I also see this in people who are trying to lose weight who have a failing in their plan. I’ve been there too.  This goal that we are trying to reach is so important to us, that when we make a mistake or fail to achieve our goals we take it hard and blame ourselves.  This blame goes beyond taking responsibility into the realm of self-criticism.  I know that at times in my life, it transferred into self-hatred.  There was a time when I was a kid I was so mad at myself for being fat that I took a wire hanger and whipped my legs until they were sore.  That only happened once, but the self-doubt and self-hatred cropped up now and then as I experience weight loss success and failure throughout my life.  If you’ve every struggled with your weight over your life, this may feel familiar.

The problem with this self-criticism is that if often leads to more self-destructive thinking and behavior.  In a previous podcast, I confessed that I am a stress eater and I know many of you listening are stress eaters too. The Catch 22 with this lack of compassion on ourselves is that the stress leads us back to food, and usually food that is not good for us.  We think these self-critical thoughts, get stressed, stress eat, get frustrated with ourselves, think more negative thoughts and the loop continues.

Why is it that we are so hard on ourselves?  What I find true is that some of us would never talk to other people the way we talk to ourselves and if they heard how we talk to ourselves they would be horrified.

When searching for a good definition of compassion I found this on Wikipedia:

“The Dalai Lama once said that compassion is a necessity, not a luxury, and that without it humanity cannot survive. Compassion is a process of connecting by identifying with another person.  This identification with others through compassion can lead to increased motivation to do something in an effort to relieve the suffering of others”.

It seems that it’s easier to have compassion on others, but how do we have a compassionate response to our own struggles and failures?

First.  We have to give up the idea of perfection.  As we move toward our goal of losing weight we cannot expect perfection. We will have ups and downs. Success and failure. What is important, though, is steady progress, not perfection.  Be kind to yourself and give up the notion of that this process will go exactly how you want.

2nd. We need to realize that we are only human and can’t do everything all at once.  Sometimes we fail in life because we are doing too much. When it comes to your health, the research shows that small changes made over time yield better results than major changes done quickly.  If you are struggling with your weight, be compassionate with yourself and give yourself plenty of time to make the changes you need.

3rd. Don’t dwell on your mistakes or failures, rather own your mistakes and forgive yourself. Then move on and start again.  In an earlier podcast I talked about how you are only one meal away from being back on track.  I have used that mental strategy hundreds of times over the years to keep my progress going. In the past, I would let my mistakes rule my thinking and I would give up.  Forgiving yourself isn’t always easy, but it’s important. It’s a way to have self-compassion.

4th. And most importantly,  believe that you are worthy of compassion. You have intrinsic value as a person, and regardless of your successes or failures, you deserve to be loved and respected. There is an organization called the Charter for Compassion and their creed explains much of what I want to say here:

“The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.”

 One of Jesus most famous sayings is, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself”.  If we increase our compassionate response to ourselves, we will have a larger capacity to have compassion on others. We will benefit, and those around us will benefit because we all need a little compassion now and then.

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