Many people have a tendency to be too hard on themselves when they make a mistake. We tell ourselves that we shouldn’t have slipped up and that we should have known better. We see making a mistake as a sign of weakness and may even let our mistakes become our defining characteristic. For example, we might tell ourselves, “I’ll never succeed. I always fail. I give up.” And then we become discouraged. We berate ourselves for even making a mistake at all, as if we should be perfect and never slip up. It can be easy to let our imperfections hold us back from a more fulfilling life. Thus, it is important for each of us to practice “self-compassion.”
Self-Compassion: Excuse for Avoiding Responsibility?
God holds us responsible for our errors but He also freely gives His mercy to us.
Some people mistakenly think that practicing self-compassion is just a way to avoid taking responsibility for one’s actions or mistakes. In fact, research shows that individuals who practiced self-compassion after a transgression were more motivated to apologize for the wrong and commit to not engaging in that behavior again than individuals who did not practice self-compassion. Other research shows that people who practice self-compassion were more likely to see their weakness as changeable. Self-compassion means acknowledging our mistakes, accepting responsibility for them, and using them as a catalyst for growth (as opposed to letting them prevent you from moving forward with your life). It’s a way of forgiving ourselves. Remember, God holds us responsible for our errors but He also freely gives His mercy to us. Shouldn’t we try to hold ourselves to the same standard that God holds us to?
Practicing self-compassion means giving to ourselves the same patience, compassion, and hope that we could give to a friend in a similar situation. It also means allowing ourselves to experience the mercy, forgiveness, and patience that God extends to us when we are struggling. Research on self-compassion shows that people who score higher on self-compassion also experience less depression and anxiety and also report being happier and more optimistic. Further research shows that people who show themselves that same compassion they show a loved one, experienced less negative and critical self-talk.
Seeing Us As God Sees Us
When we show compassion towards ourselves, we treat ourselves the same way God treats us.
By our very nature as human beings, we are imperfect. We sin. We make mistakes. We fall from time to time. But that doesn’t mean we are a hopeless case. Instead of despairing, we need to treat ourselves with compassion. Kristin Neff, a psychologist and one of the leading researchers on self-compassion and its benefits, says self-compassion is composed of three specific elements: practicing self-kindness, recognizing our common humanity, and practicing mindfulness.
When we show compassion towards ourselves, we treat ourselves the same way God treats us. I recently attended a retreat where the priest reflected on how God doesn’t love you any less when you sin or make a mistake. He forgives you for your sins and doesn’t dwell on them. He can even use them to help bring you closer to Him. When we practice self-compassion, we acknowledge our shortcomings but we don’t let them define us and we don’t let them hold us back from seeking to improve and grow. By practicing self-compassion, we are accepting God’s forgiveness and mercy. On the other hand, when we despair because of our failings, we close ourselves off from God’s forgiveness and mercy.
Do to Ourselves As We Would Do to Others
Why are we so hard on ourselves? Why do we withhold kindness and patience from ourselves when we fail?
Because we are often harder on ourselves than we are on other people, we find it easier to extend understanding and kindness towards others. For example, say a family member or friend came to you saying they wanted to eat healthy foods and to start working out. However, she was grow discouraged because she hadn’t been to the gym in a while and wasn’t sticking to her diet. You’d likely be encouraging saying something like, “You can do it. I’ll meet up with you a few mornings a week to walk or run,” or, “Come over and we’ll make a few healthy meals to freeze for the week.” I’m certain you wouldn’t say, “You are so lazy. You’ll never feel healthy if you keep failing. You may as well give up if you can stick perfectly to your goals.” Most of us would never dream to say something like that to a friend.
Now imagine yourself in your friend’s situation. If you had similar goals but were struggling to form the habit, you might not be as kind to yourself. You might find yourself thinking, “You are so lazy. You’ll never feel healthy if you keep failing. You may as well give up.” Those same words you would never dream to say to a friend, many people don’t hesitate to say to themselves. Why are we so hard on ourselves? Why do we withhold kindness and patience from ourselves when we fail? Often, deep down, we don’t think we deserve to be treated with kindness. But we have to remember that we are a member of the human race (Remember the three elements of self-compassion?) which means that we make mistakes. It’s more important to get back up and try again than to wallow in our mistakes.
Make Self-Compassion an Everyday Part of Your Life
Embrace God’s mercy and forgiveness by practicing self-compassion.
Practicing self-compassion in everyday life can be as simple as thinking kinder thoughts about yourself. For example, if you are late to a meeting, instead of thinking, “Why can I never be on time? I feel lazy and unorganized,” try thinking, “I wish I wasn’t late but I’m here now so I’ll just focus on the meeting. Afterwards, I’ll try to figure out how I can help myself being more on time in the future.” Make a goal to notice when you use critical self-talk when you make a mistake, whether it’s significant or not. And then, try to talk to yourself with compassion the same way you would a friend. Embrace God’s mercy and forgiveness by practicing self-compassion and see how it feels.