Good, you know how to read. Now, let’s repeat that out loud. Try reading those six phrases out loud. Try again in front of your mirror. Don’t look down. Look at yourself and shoot them out. Notice how you react to your voice. Notice your body language. Are you looking down again? Are you touching your neck? Are you cracking your fingers? Are you repeating the phrases too quietly? Notice your reactions. Are you feeling uncomfortable? Do you want to get it over with and read something more “interesting”, less “superficial”, and more “important”?
I know. It’s okay. It happens to the best of us. It’s like a bomb is exploding in our heads telling us;
It’s so cringe
Don’t be so cheesy
Don’t be one of those
It’s weird talking like that for yourself
This is self-pitying
People will think less of you
You deserve good comments only if you have worked hard
You don’t deserve them
This is not true
You are lazy
Don’t be so easy on yourself
This is a waste of time
Let’s start with baby steps in defining self-compassion. According to Dr Kristin Neff, a leading expert in self-compassion, instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings or difficult times. We treat ourselves like we would treat a friend. There are three elements of self-compassion: self-kindness, acceptance of our imperfect human nature, and mindfulness.
Understanding why even baby steps are hard
“Okay, I understand that, and I know it would be helpful for me, but this doesn’t make it any easier for me to practice it in my everyday life. Why does it feel so awkward to me?”
There are, of course, multiple perspectives one may choose to address this question. Here, we will address it by focusing on a more Schema Therapy & Acceptance and Commitment Therapy perspective.
How we treat and talk to ourselves is a learned behavior. It did not come out of nowhere. Throughout our early life experiences- with our family, friends, and significant others- we have all developed core beliefs about ourselves and the world, otherwise called schemas. Imagine schemas as a pair of glasses you wear throughout your day. Through them, you observe and understand the world and yourself. For example, it makes sense that you developed this idea that ‘when making a mistake or experience something difficult, you should strongly criticize yourself; expecting no other mistake; and showing no emotional “weakness”’ if:
Because of experiences like these, some of the core emotional needs every individual has, have not been met. In particular, the need for acceptance, unconditional love, and freedom to experience both positive and negative emotions. In other words, the sense that “It’s okay that some things will go wrong”, “it’s okay to say that what I am now experiencing is tough”, and “It’s okay being kind and accepting towards myself and my negative emotions”, was not incorporated in your core beliefs system. Instead, ideas that being self-compassionate is a way of “engaging in self-pity” or “being lazy” became more dominant.
Some schemas commonly seen, and therefore an obstacle to practicing self-compassion, are the following;
Do all of these sound familiar?
Having established these beliefs as your core way of thinking for several decades now, it makes a lot of sense why you have developed a powerful inner critic,: a punitive or demanding inner voice as we called it in other words.
Does it make more sense now, why your brain reacts instinctively to any other self-talk?
If, for years, you learned to tell yourself “I am incompetent, people will disapprove me, I have to be punished, be perfect and show no weakness”, and you now decide to- even slightly- switch your self-talk, your brain only knows one way to react: “Don’t be cheesy, you don’t deserve these words, stop it, this is a waste of time”.
But how helpful are these voices now?
The schemas and the inner voice have been created back then due to unmet core emotional needs, and as a form of acceptance. However, now, you are in a position to offer this acceptance to yourself. You can now look at “failures”, “mistakes”, and “difficult times”, as what they are; and instead of reacting with your judgie voice and suppression of the negative emotion, as you would normally do, just sit with those emotions. Let them be there next to you; accepting that is a difficult time for you and that talking harshly to yourself will only empower your schema and inner critic voice. You have succumbed to this inner voice for years and yet you are reading this blog. This means that this coping method of yours has not been as useful as your mind tells you it is. Try a different road this time. Try rephrasing your narrative. Be more compassionate and remind yourself it will be uncomfortable at first. It takes time to rebuild our voices after a sore throat, so allow yourself to take some time recovering from this constant self coughing.
I am having a difficult time
I forgive me
I worked hard
I deserve to be loved
I am competent
I am enough
It’s not cringe
It’s not cheesy
People will not think less of me
This is not a waste of time
Written by Alexandra Symeonidou, intern at AntiLoneliness
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