I am excited to do something a little different this week. Kim Fredrickson, counselor and author of the book, Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend, graciously contributed a guest post as part of the conversation going on in the Kindness Community, A Word Imagined. Her message is both inspirational and healing for me personally and to many throughout the world. Thank you, Kim, for blessing us with your generous contribution:
Healing Power of Kindness
I’m so blessed to offer words of compassion and kindness today. Our world desperately needs the healing power of kindness. We need kindness when we are hurt, and we need kindness when we are the ones doing the hurting.
But how do we muster kindness for others from within? How do we speak words of compassion to others when our own inner critic speaks so loudly about our own mistakes and faults? That is the question…
The well of kindness we want to give others starts with a more compassionate relationship with ourselves.
A Compassionate Friend
Being a compassionate friend to ourselves helps us become better friends, spouses, parents, bosses and co-workers. We have more love and energy to give others when we are in a more settled place inside and aren’t wasting time and energy fighting with our inner critic.
But wait! Isn’t this just being selfish and self-centered? The answer is a resounding “No.” Jesus knew we’d have trouble figuring this out, so He explained it here:
Mark 12:28–31 says: One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest and He gave them two commandments encompassed by one principle: Love.
Love God with everything in you. Love your neighbor, and use your model for loving them as the way you love yourself.
Wait! What? Our model for loving others is how we love ourselves? Uh oh! Wait…I’m judgmental toward myself for lots of things! Exactly.
Wanting to be kind toward others is good, very good. We can even sustain this effort for a while if we try really hard.
A Changed Heart
We need God’s love to permeate our heart, mind and soul. We need His love and kindness to fill us in order to share with others. But, His love for us alone isn’t enough. That is what He’s talking about in Mark 12 – Love is a three-part deal…love God, love yourself and love others. Unless we also learn to love ourselves and be compassionate with ourselves, our inner critic will sabotage our heartfelt efforts to be kind to others. The ways we are critical of ourselves will spill onto others. Without meaning to, we will judge others harshly for the things we’ve never forgiven ourselves for.
We cannot live a life of kindness, if we do not have kindness and compassion for ourselves. Until we face our own brokenness with compassion and forgiveness, we cannot truly love others in the ways we want for the long haul.
We want to be changed people, instruments of healing and love to this very broken world. We want to do this as a lifestyle, and pass it on to our children, friends, family and community for generations to come.
To live a life of kindness requires a changed heart.
Practicing self-compassion changes our heart. As I treat myself with the care and compassion I would give a good friend who is struggling, I have more love to give others.
Improve Well-being and Relationships
Many studies link the practice of self-compassion to an increase in emotional resiliency, self-worth and contentment; reduced stress and healthier relationships. We become better friends, spouses, parents, bosses, co-workers, etc. We handle disappointments more smoothly and understand our own humanness, which helps us handle the humanness of those around us.
Just as I am an imperfect person, with great worth and value, so are those around me. The internal transformation of accepting God’s love for us and then extending it to ourselves, sets the stage for the sharing of that love and kindness with others.
Don’t worry if you haven’t got a clue how to turn your inner critic into a compassionate friend. You can learn, and your heart, family, community and world will never be the same.
We can all share great ideas on how to build more positivity into our society. Join the conversation on our public Facebook group, A Word Imagined, to share ideas.
At some point you have probably made a New Year’s resolution and then broken it. But instead of a resolution, what would it be like this year to create a meaningful habit?
Last year I wrote a series about self-control and how to achieve your goals. While researching the topic I was surprised to find that using willpower and self-determination alone sets us up for failure. I am not sure why this is such a surprise. How many times have I broken my resolutions when life got too busy? Sliding back into old habits can be a familiar pattern for many of us:
- Let’s say you decide to go on a diet and a coworker brings a box of gourmet donuts to the office? You work hard to resist the donuts throughout the entire day. However, your willpower is so taxed trying to avoid the donuts all day that you later give in to a large combo plate at your favorite Mexican restaurant that night. What a frustrating experience.
- Or suppose you decide to control your anger. You make a commitment to be kinder to your spouse at the end of each day when you get home from work. Unfortunately, the next workday is full of stressors: your boss yells at you, you miss lunch, and traffic is unbelievably frustrating. Then you get home, and what happens? The commitment you made to yourself goes out the window and you end up angry with your spouse.
This is a common experience because willpower is limited. We create our goal, shore up our determination, eventually run out of steam, and end up falling short.
“Willpower, for all its merits, is full of holes. Maintaining it requires not only a good deal of effort but also a conducive environment… Seemingly irrelevant factors like being at home versus being at work, or even the need to make simple decisions unrelated to resisting temptation—(‘Should I wear a white shirt or a blue one?’)—can diminish self-control. The result? People whose willpower is taxed fail to resist about one out of every six temptations they face, even when they try using cognitive strategies to manage their ‘hot’ responses. Willpower appears to be quite finite in supply.” (David Desteno, September 15, 2014, Pacific Standard, The Science of Society).
How Can I Achieve My Goals?
If willpower does not work, what can I do?
According to a recent review of lab experiments on self-control, four emotional characteristics were shown to boost our self-control and increase staying power (Desteno, 2014).
- Authentic pride
“These emotions— gratitude, compassion, authentic pride, and even guilt—work from the bottom up to shape decisions that favor the long-term. If we focus on instilling the capacity to experience these emotional states regularly, we’ll build resources that will automatically spring forth in reflexive and productive ways. In essence, we’ll give ourselves inoculations against temptation that, like antibodies in our bloodstream, will be ready and waiting to combat possible threats to our well-being.” (David Desteno, September 15, 2014, Pacific Standard, The Science of Society).
Breaking It Down
For the month of January, I will focus each week on a virtue that boosts staying power. This week will focus on compassion, and how a compassion practice can have a positive impact our ability to reach our goals.
How Can We Build Compassion?
Compassion is an emotion that involves noticing our surroundings, and then feeling moved to care. When we allow ourselves to notice another person, we are naturally moved to respond to a fellow human being with care and concern.
Self-compassion is the same thing. The only difference is allowing ourselves to see our own struggle, and respond to ourselves with care in the same way we would another human being.
One way we can build compassion is to practice on ourselves. We can be our worst critic and beat up on ourselves when we fall short on hopes and goals. When we talk to ourselves with criticism and self-judgment, we fuel anger and anxiety. We can even increase the odds that we will get frustrated and want to quit.
Kristin Neff has found that “people who can first give themselves emotional support and validation will be in a better position to be giving, accepting and generous to their partners.” She also found that “people who nurture self-compassion have better overall psychological and emotional health, experience less anxiety and depression, and are more motivated to achieve their goals.” (Randall, 2013)
What Gets In The Way?
In a recent TED talk, Daniel Goleman explored the things that keep us from compassion. One of the main obstacles is being in a hurry.
“A group of divinity students at the Princeton Theological Seminary were told that they were going to give a practice sermon and they were each given a sermon topic. Half of those students were given, as a topic, the parable of the Good Samaritan: the man who stopped to help the stranger in need by the side of the road. Half were given random Bible topics. Then one by one, they were told they had to go to another building and give their sermon. As they went from the first building to the second, each of them passed a man who was bent over and moaning, clearly in need. The question is: Did they stop to help? The more interesting question is: Did it matter they were contemplating the parable of the Good Samaritan? Answer: No, not at all. What turned out to determine whether someone would stop and help a stranger in need was how much of a hurry they thought they were in. And this is, I think, the predicament of our lives: that we don’t take every opportunity to help because our focus is in the wrong direction.” (Goleman, 2007)
The conclusion of the experiment was that the student’s compassion was not significantly influenced by studying the passage on compassion, but more by the student’s belief that they were in too much of a hurry. When we get overwhelmed or in a rush, this impacts our ability to be compassionate with ourselves, as well as others we care about. One way to build compassion is to slow the pace of life.
When we begin each year, we are full of hope and excitement about the possibility of making positive changes. But over time, the fast pace of life gets in the way and pulls us off track. How we respond to ourselves when we make mistakes is essential to reaching our goals. If I beat up myself with self-criticism, I lose heart and momentum. “I failed again just like last year; I will never get this right.” This approach increases frustration and makes it difficult to keep going. Kim Fredrickson suggests another approach: Acknowledge my mistake and realize that even when I mess up, I deserve to be treated with dignity as a fellow human being.
“Self-compassion is a balance of truth (Yes, I made a mistake) with grace (I have worth and value, and I will address this mistake directly)… Self-compassion is absolutely essential for healthy, balanced living. It provides huge benefits including emotional resiliency, stress reduction, contentment, and healthier relationships. Without it we are vulnerable to the opinions of others and find it difficult to deal with and let go of our mistakes.” Kim Fredrickson
When we learn to respond to ourselves with kindness and compassion, we calm the body and create space to respond courageously with our best selves. This is not the same as self-pity.
“Self-compassion isn’t poor me. Self-compassion is: ‘It’s hard for all of us… the human experience is hard for me, for you, this is the way life is.’ It’s a much more connected way of relating to yourself. And this is why mindfulness is so important. When we are mindful of our suffering, we see it as it is, we don’t ignore it, but we also don’t over exaggerate.” Kristin Neff
A compassionate approach allows us to respond to ourselves with kindness and get a fresh start every day. Our mistakes do not define us. We are able to decrease the heavy burden of our missteps and move forward compassionately with our hopes and dreams.
Ready to Boost Your Compassion?
Here are some tools to get started:
- A quiz to assess your current level of self-compassion.
- A self-compassion exercise to get a small hint of what this looks like in practice: Self-Compassion Exercise
- Compassion Meditations designed to increase experience of compassion for self and others.
Resources on Building Compassion
Desteno, D. (2014) A Feeling of Control: How America Can Finally Learn to Deal With Its Impulses. Pacific Standard, The Science of Society. (http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/feeling-control-america-can-finally-learn-deal-impulses-self-regulation-89456/)
Goleman, D. (2007). TED. (http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_goleman_on_compassion?language=en)
Jennifer Christian, M.A., LPC
I am excited to do something a little different this week. Kim Fredrickson, counselor and author of the book, Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend, has graciously contributed a guest post about the how to develop greater compassion with our own selves. Her message has been both inspirational and healing for me personally and to many throughout the world. Thank you, Kim, for blessing us with your generous contribution:
Self-Compassion is Vital for a Healthy Life
Life can be rough without the comfort, balance and guidance of a self-compassionate friend on the inside. Lack of self-compassion affects our relationships and our well being in profoundly negative ways. What a difference it makes to go through life with a kind friend on the inside rather than an internal critic or bully!
So What Exactly is Self-Compassion?
It is the idea that we can be kind to ourselves when we fail and treat ourselves with the caring support we would give another who is struggling. Out of self-compassion flow self-care and protection from harm.
Self-compassion is a balance of truth (Yes, I made a mistake) with grace (I have worth and value, and I will address mistakes directly).
Grace and truth together mean you acknowledge what happened without either minimizing it or making it more than it was, and at the same time apply compassion to yourself. Self-compassion helps us handle our humanness and the situations we are in with empathy, concern, understanding and kindness.
Self-compassion is a gentle way we relate to ourselves both when we’re struggling and when things are going well. It’s like treating yourself as you would a friend who is struggling, learning something new, scared or confused.
Many Positives Result from Self-Compassion
Treating ourselves with compassion produces benefits to ourselves as well as our relationships. Many experience an increase in emotional resiliency, self-worth and contentment; reduced stress and healthier relationships
When we come into relationships being our own compassionate friend, we become better friends, spouses, parents, bosses, co-workers, etc. We handle disappointments more smoothly and we won’t require the other person to have the perfect response in order for us to be ok.
Lack of Self-Compassion Costs Us
Lack of self-compassion is linked to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of resilience, inability to forgive oneself, problems in relationships, vulnerability to the opinions of others, difficulty letting go of mistakes, and problems recovering from painful experiences.
As you can imagine, walking around with an inner critic who is negatively evaluating you for the mistakes you’ve made in the past, how you are goofing up in the present, and how you’ll likely mess up in the future is quite depressing, and produces a lot of anxiety.
Not only is having a bully in your head depressing, it can also feel hopeless…like there’s nothing you can do to change this negative self-talk. Most likely you’ve already tried positive thinking, trying to quiet your internal bully and telling yourself the truth…often without much success. Most people work very hard to combat this inner critic, but feel so defeated.
The missing link is not having a compassionate relationship with yourself. Self-compassion helps to soothe those dark places, brings truth and grace to the heart, and brings hope and a way to get better. We are with ourselves 100 percent of the time. The way you interact with yourself has a greater impact on you than any interactions you have with others.
Many people struggle with depression and anxiety for lots of reasons. Self-compassion helps prevent depression and anxiety, as well as reduce its effects. Imagine how you would feel if you had a compassionate friend on the inside who empathized with you, helped you take good care of yourself, and showed you how to be kind to yourself?
When our shortcomings and mistakes are met with compassion and understanding, we will have more energy and space inside to forgive ourselves, find solutions and repair relationships. When our shortcomings and mistakes are met with self-judgment and condemnation, we experience a lack of hope and begin to shut down emotionally.
Someone who practices self-compassion might say something to themselves when they make mistakes, goof up or regret their actions:
Yes, I wish I’d acted differently. I’m using this experience for good in order to grow and learn. I can grant myself grace while still doing what is necessary to right this situation. I’m not perfect, and I don’t need to be. I am loveable and acceptable even when I make mistakes. I will take a look at what made me vulnerable to act in this way, and take steps to learn from this experience and repair any damage I have done. I can be a good friend to myself while handling this situation.
Reasons Why You May Not Have Learned Self-Compassion
Most people struggle with negative self-talk and lack of self-compassion, so realize you are in good company. There are really good reasons why you did not learn how to be compassionate with yourself:
- History of Being Criticized
Repeated criticism creates a challenge because we may have internalized and accepted critical messages we heard growing up. This critical and harsh way of being dealt with then becomes our model for how to deal with ourselves when we make mistakes or struggle.
- A Bully on the Inside
A part of us has taken on a “bully” stance toward our mistakes, weaknesses, and areas of struggle. It is very important to realize that the “bully” inside is actually trying to help in the only way it knows how. These harsh good intentions attempt to keep us out of trouble, help us perform well, and not be lazy, to name a few. These harsh strategies developed when we were young and often carry into adulthood. How wonderful it is now, to learn new ways to motivate ourselves tin ways that are healthy, not harmful.
- Didn’t Learn Healthy Motivations for Change
We may not have been taught a different motivation to change besides being hard on ourselves. Believe it or not, there are other positive reasons that can motivate us to grow and change:
- Wanting to be the most honorable and caring person possible
- Not wanting to hurt others
- Wanting to be as spiritually, relationally, and emotionally healthy as possible
- Wanting to be a safe and trustworthy person in our relationships
- Wanting to grow in order to fulfill our potential
Note that these reasons are in direct contrast to trying to change because we see ourselves as bad, a loser, or a misfit.
- Didn’t Experience Compassion
If we weren’t treated with compassion or watched others treat themselves with compassion we won’t know how to treat ourselves that way instinctually. You’re not supposed to know how to do this if you haven’t been taught.
Don’t get down on yourself for not knowing how to respond to your humanness with compassion. It’s not too late to learn! Here’s a compassionate way to talk you to yourself right now:
Yes, I do tend to be really hard on myself. I say horrible things to myself to try to get myself to do the right thing. Sometimes, I even punish myself on purpose for being such a mess-up. I didn’t realize until now that I can relate to myself in a different way. I actually feel some compassion for that small bullying part of me that had to develop to keep me out of trouble. Although I can’t even imagine trying to motivate myself to change because of positive reasons, I am starting to believe maybe it’s possible. I guess it makes sense that if I never had a model of how to be both truthful and compassionate with myself at the same time, I wouldn’t know how to do it. I have some hope that I can learn a different way.
It’s Not Too Late To Learn!
- Realize it is a process
Considering treating yourself with compassion is a first great step.
- Notice the way you talk to yourself
We can’t change what we aren’t aware of. You may be surprised by how much time you spend saying negative things to yourself.
- Say STOP to negative self-talk
Say “No” when you begin to say something mean to yourself… “I’m not going to talk to myself like that anymore” is a great step, even if you don’t know a compassionate thing to say in its place.
- Ask yourself…what would the kindest person I know say to me about the mistake I made, or the thing I regret? Say this to yourself.
- Get help knowing what to say and do
Read about self-compassion and start to treat yourself differently a little bit at a time. My book, Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend is filled with stories about different scenarios we can all relate to. I share lots of examples of what it sounds like to use grace-filled compassionate language with yourself…kind of like having a self-compassion coach alongside you.
- Take care of yourself
Make time to do things that are calming and soothing for you…relaxation, reading, walking in nature, doing your favorite hobby, time with affirming friends…whatever you have noticed brings you encouragement and comfort.
Kim Fredrickson, MS, MFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC 22635) Kim recently closed her 30-year counseling practice due to serious health issues. Despite this sudden change in her health, Kim remains optimistic, hopeful, and positive.
Kim is the author of Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend. She enjoys sharing about the transforming power of self-compassion integrated with faith. Connect with Kim on Facebook, Twitter, and her blog, Self-Compassion for Real Life http://www.kimfredrickson.com/blog/
The light stream is a relaxation meditation used to calm distressing sensations in the body. It is also a body scan that allows you to be compassionate and mindful of what you are experiencing and feeling in this present moment. This is an adaptation of Francine Shapiro’s original Light Stream.
Photo taken by Reese Christian
Can compassion really help me with my anger problem? In his recent article, How to Turn Your Brain from Anger to Compassion, Paul Gilbert explores the shifts that happen in the brain and our reactivity when we learn how to cultivate compassion. Gilbert notes, “Attention is like a spotlight—whatever it shines on becomes brighter in the mind. This knowledge can help us build compassion.”
Excerpt from, How to Turn Your Brain from Anger to Compassion: “We can come to understand why and how to cultivate compassion within us, which has the capacity for healing and reorganizing our minds such that we can begin to become the people we want to be—in other words, to have the garden-mind we want. This requires courage.”
I recently received “Give Yourself a Break” in the mail and immediately read over half of it. It is wonderful. Kim Fredrickson’s book about self-compassion explores God’s compassion for us from a balanced perspective that includes both truth and grace.
Compassionate self-talk has been shown to calm the threat-detection system and allow us to be more understanding with others. Kristin Neff is an expert in self-compassion. Her research found that “people who can first give themselves emotional support and validation will be in a better position to be giving, accepting and generous to their partners.” She also found that “people who nurture self-compassion have better overall psychological and emotional health, experience less anxiety and depression, are more motivated to achieve their goals.” (Randall, 2013)
Here is a little taste of a book packed with wisdom, words of grace, and practical ways to apply self-compassion:
“As children we’re taught to treat others the way we would like to be treated. But as adults, we often need to turn that old maxim around. We’re good at showing compassion to other people – but many of us have trouble showing that same compassion to ourselves.”
“Self-compassion is absolutely essential for healthy, balanced living. It provides huge benefits including emotional resiliency, stress reduction, contentment, and healthier relationships. Without it we are vulnerable to the opinions of others and find it difficult to deal with and let go of our mistakes. It is tough enough to go through a difficult situation, especially when we think we had a part in creating it. It is another kind of torture to never be able to let go of self-criticism and blame… God’s heart is tender toward us in our suffering, frailties, and mistakes. He is our perfect example of balancing truth and grace. He knows we are but dust and is merciful (Ps. 78:38-39).”