Since childhood, chances are you’ve been expected to be nice to others; to “treat them how you want to be treated,” presumably with kindness and respect. But why do so many people (myself included) struggle to apply this golden rule to themselves?
We talk a lot about self-compassion at SELF—how it can help you move past your mistakes, for example, improve your relationship with food and movement, and accept yourself overall.
But being kind to yourself—especially when you feel like a failure—is often easier said than done. The default for many of us is to, instead, be our own worst critic: You always mess up. Everybody else has their life together—except you. You’re not doing enough. Sound familiar?
That little, mean voice in your head is not your friend, and it can hold you back from positive change and inner peace, Adia Gooden, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and host of the Unconditionally Worthy podcast, tells SELF. “It’s hard when that inner critic is so loud that it tunes out the wiser, more compassionate part of ourselves, which really gets activated when we’re talking to a friend and offering them kindness in a way that comes really easily,” Dr. Gooden says.
Learning to drown out self-criticism by turning up the volume on that kinder inner wisdom isn’t easy, but it is worth it. You might think that being hard on yourself will make you more humble, say, or that it’ll motivate you to be better, but it actually tends to work against you, according to Dr. Gooden. In fact, 2019 research found that having self-compassion can buffer the mental health consequences of self-criticism, such as stress and depressive symptoms. And one study published in 2009 suggests that people with high levels of self-compassion may be more likely to feel happy and optimistic about the future, even in situations of perceived failure and rejection.
So, how do you actually show yourself kindness in a way that doesn’t feel cliché or inauthentic? When self-compassion doesn’t come naturally, consider these practical ways to give yourself a break.
1. Confront your inner critic.
We all have one, but you may not even recognize when yours is infiltrating your thoughts. The first step toward showing yourself more kindness is observing the toxic voice in your head, Andrea Bonior, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and host of the Baggage Check podcast, tells SELF. Whenever you start comparing yourself to others, say, or blaming yourself for a work mistake or some other misstep, stop for a second and think about what you’re actually saying to yourself.
“For some people, negative self-talk is so pervasive that it’s like the water they’re swimming in,” Dr. Bonior says. “They don’t recognize that it’s even there, whether it’s negative body image or just being harsh in other ways.” Simply noticing what your inner bully is saying— and even acknowledging it by writing it down or trying a journaling alternative like voice notes—puts you in a better position to begin to challenge and quiet those thoughts, she adds.
2. Treat yourself like you would a close friend—or your childhood self.
Let’s say your best friend is feeling insecure after a bad day at work. Would you call them a failure? Tell them they’re incompetent at their job? Insist that they don’t deserve their promotion after one mistake? Chances are, you’d never talk to your friends or family the way you may talk to yourself. So why don’t you deserve the same treatment?