When was the last time you said, “I am an idiot”?
Most of us believe that focussing on our failures and beating ourselves for them is an important way towards improvement. Yet, when friends fall, we encourage them and support them in moving forward. Least of all we why and how things go well.
Emerging research is proving differently. For example, the work of Emma Seppälä from the “Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education Stanford University School of Medicine” explores the role of compassion and altruism.
Being tough on ourselves may have been useful many moons ago when we were hunter-gatherers, helping us to stay alive. As such it was far more natural to focus on negativity as a useful tool for survival.
Today, however, life is safer, even if more complex, and we learn a greater variety of skills both as humans and in our professional roles. Today, emphasis on our mistakes and self-punishment may actually be counterproductive and make us dysfunctional. Excessive self-criticism is crippling and can lead us to fear failure, and as a result to poorer performance thus becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Today self-kindness and self-compassion are better ways to create a space for us to learn, actually enabling us to grow.
We are compassionate towards others, and this is a virtue in Western culture, but we struggle to apply it to ourselves.
Self-kindness involves being caring, gentle and understanding towards oneself in times of distress. It involves actively soothing and comforting oneself.
A large body of research shows that self-compassion enables us to thrive, reducing our levels of stress, anxiety and depression. There is more: self-compassion is powerful in mitigating the effect of negative life events. Through self-compassion we do not replace negative feelings with positive ones: we generate positive emotions by embracing the negative ones. And, by doing so, we improve our emotional intelligence, wisdom, life satisfaction, and feelings of social connectedness—important elements of a meaningful life for everyone.
When you are in a fit of over criticism, observe if are you being kind to yourself and accepting of your responses as a human being?
If emotions are overwhelming, write a letter as if you were writing to a friend, thinking about how you would comfort this person, normalizing what has happened.