For most of her life, Jill heard the same critical soundtrack: “You’ll not good enough.” “Another stupid mistake,” “You’re a loser,” “You’ll never make it.” Her mind seemed stuck on an abusive talk radio station, filled with harsh insults she’d never think of saying to anyone else.
I don’t know what kind of daughter her mother had in mind but it obviously wasn’t Jill. She was a bright, curious child and excellent student, but her mother found her too plain, too introverted, too lost in her books and imagination. Jill tried desperately to please her mother, to play the right role, but often failed to meet her expectations.
So she grew up learning to scan the people around her, craving approval, trying to identify and meet their expectations as well. But approval is like a sugar high. It doesn’t last. It’s never enough. And it subjects us to an endless round of subordinating ourselves to others, taking us further and further away from ourselves. Even today, as a successful professional, Jill harbors that “not good enough” feeling inside, unable to accept compliments, to believe in herself, to fully relax and enjoy her life.
If this pattern sounds familiar, you may have grown up like Jill, with a narcissistic parent who didn’t give you the consistent love and acceptance you needed to form a secure attachment (Bowlby, 1980; McBride, 2008).
Acceptance nurtures our hearts and souls. If we’re fortunate, we get it from nurturing parents. But we
can also get acceptance from genuine friends who see us for who we are; from therapists, who listen with “unconditional positive regard” (Rogers, 1989); and according to psychologist Kristin Neff (2011), we can give it to ourselves by practicing self-compassion. Neff’s research reveals how we can begin treating ourselves as we would a dear friend, responding to our mistakes and insecurities with a combination of mindfulness, kindness, and recognition of our common humanity.
If you’ve been hearing an old abusive soundtrack in your head, STOP--and replace it with these three steps of self-compassion:
- Mindfulness. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Name your feelings to yourself—“I feel sad, scared, hurt, angry, confused.”
- Common humanity. Tell yourself, “It’s OK. No one’s perfect. Everyone makes mistakes.”
- Kindness to yourself. Actively soothe yourself with kind words, even giving yourself a hug by crossing your arms over your chest, squeezing your upper arms, and feeling a sense of compassion for yourself (Neff, 2011).
Whatever your life was like in the past, you can begin right now to experience the acceptance you need with the gift of self-compassion.
Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and loss (Vol. 3). New York, NY: Basic Books.
McBride, K. (2008). Will I ever be good enough? Healing the daughters of narcissistic mothers. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York, NY: William Morrow. For more information about self-compassion, see http://www.self-compassion.org/
Rogers, C. R. (1989). The Carl Rogers reader. H. Kirschenbaum and V. L. Henderson (Eds.), (pp. 135-138). Boston, MA:Houghton Mifflin.
Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, personal coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.
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