Several years ago I started going to a weekly meditation group. Although it may seem counterintuitive, as a beginner I found meditating in a group setting easier. More instruction, more dialogue, more role models.
After the silent meditation portion of the evening, during one of the dialogue sessions, an older woman brought up the topic of “self-compassion” and how hard it is to be self-compassionate in the midst of a very busy life.
I vividly remember how dumb I felt for not knowing what self-compassion was and how I felt even dumber for having no idea of how to ask the speaker to explain it to me.
I stewed on this, playing with the phrasing of the question in my head for a good five minutes, trying so hard to appear inquisitive, not ignorant, but I came up short. Sensing that she was getting ready to move on to another topic, I jumped in headfirst.
“Susan, earlier you talked about self-compassion. I was wondering if you could elaborate for me? By self-compassion you mean…”
Nice one. Not the least bit ignorant. At all.
In her signature soothing voice, Susan explained to me — and everyone else in the room — that self-compassion is how kind and gentle you are to yourself. Interesting. It sounded pretty self-explanatory. And while I realized it was easier said than done, it was something I was willing to work on.
And then came the zinger.
In one sentence, Susan summed up a challenge I believe every mother in the world faces. She said, “There’s a powerful and proven correlation between how kind you are to yourself and how much you like yourself.”
There was nothing silent or meditative about the next 45 minutes of my life. No one else in the room was atwitter at this revelation, but the gears in my mind started spinning and grinding.
The positive version of this concept is easy enough to digest. It’s almost dismissible: the more you like yourself, the nicer and kinder you are to yourself.
Fine. Cheers to that.
But the corollary is profoundly challenging: the more you dislike yourself, the meaner you are to yourself. This seems especially true for mothers. I’ve witnessed it in almost every mother I’ve studied across 17 countries.
Moms — so supportive of people around them, but so mean to themselves.
Perhaps you, like me, have a mean inner voice that constantly judges your every move. I refer to mine as Debbie Downer because she’s a real pill. Take last night at dinner, for example. She was like Howard Cosell providing color commentary for a boxing match.
“Geez, Katherine why can’t you get your daughter to eat vegetables? Your niece has been eating sushi since she was six. Get your shit together, lady.”
Now, I’ve often made light of the voice in my head, calling it the meanest mean girl I know. But Susan’s explanation of self-compassion changed my thinking.
If I talked that way about another mom instead of myself, it certainly wouldn’t be because I was sending rainbow kisses and love taps her way. A thought like that is poisonous, a real relationship wrecker.
So, here’s the $64,000 question: Do you like yourself?
I’m sure your first instinct is to respond, “Sure. I’m all right” It’s human nature to dismiss such a deep question with a superficial response and get back to burning the Brussels sprouts.
But actions speak louder than words. The next time your inner Debbie Downer starts criticizing you, hit the pause button, and reverse the question. If you’re that mean to yourself, how much can you possibly like yourself?
Whew. Put that in your Brussels sprouts and smoke it.
Can you make peace with your mistakes?
Can you move on from your mishaps?
Can you become perfectly OK with being imperfect?
Don’t think about these questions in the fairytale land of theory. Think about them in light of the evidence, in light of how you treat yourself every day. Think about the tone of your self-speak in the heat of the moment, the way you beat yourself up over silly snafus instead of giving yourself the benefit of the doubt. The truth is, you’re way too hard on yourself.
You wouldn’t treat a friend that way, so stop doing it to yourself. Hell, you probably wouldn’t even treat an enemy that way.
People say the truth hurts. I disagree. When it’s your truth it’s always a step in the right direction — and, in this case, a step toward self-compassion.