Fellow PT blogger, Dr Kelly McGonigal, has an excellent phrase "Self-compassion beats self-criticism any day, and in every way."
In my therapy practice, clients often express that they want to try out self-compassion, but then strike a problem. When they're having "a moment of suffering," the self-compassion model doesn't get activated - they don't think at the time "Oh, this is a time I could use self compassion." To help you get started learning when to use self-compassion instead of self-criticism, here are 20 examples.
Here Are 20 Examples of When to Use Self-Compassion
1. When you're trying hard but what you're producing isn't as good as you'd like it to be. Try giving yourself compassion for the feelings of frustration and disappointment.
2. When you're comparing yourself unfavorably to someone else/other people.
4. When you would really like to be perfect and, in fact, aren't. Or, any other unattainable striving trap you're caught in (see number 17 on this list for more info about the trap of "unrelenting standards").
5. When you're stuck in traffic and feeling harassed and harangued because you know you're going to be late for an appointment. You're criticizing yourself for not leaving earlier.
6. When you're perceiving yourself to have a big weakness, flaw, inadequacy, or as unlovable.
7. When you're having a recurring problem and feel lost, confused, or overwhelmed about how to solve it. Try giving yourself compassion, understanding, and kindness for the lost, confused, overwhelmed feelings.
8. When you're having a problem of "doing what you know." There are two types of problems - knowing what to do and doing what you know. A "doing what you know" problem is when you know a strategy that would likely help you but aren't doing it. For example, you know exercise helps lift your mood, but you're not trying it even though you're feeling depressed.
9. When you find yourself trying to use self-criticism to motivate yourself to change your behavior even though you've read the research showing it's ineffective and usually has the opposite effect.
10. When you want to use self-compassion but you feel confused about how to do it. Yes, you can use self-compassion when you're struggling with self-compassion!
11. When you've broken one of your "rules" e.g., about eating.
12. When you've done avoidant coping and you're now suffering the negative consequences e.g., you've avoided having an awkward conversation and now the situation has turned into a bigger mess.
13. When you're feeling angry, jealous, envious, entitled, or selfish and you're criticizing yourself for having those feelings.
14. When you're thinking "should" thoughts e.g., "I should be over this problem already" or "I should have made more progress" Tip: You can try changing "should" to "could" or "prefer" e.g., I would prefer to have made more progress.
15. When anxiety, other emotions, or competing demands, are making it hard to enact a value (e.g., you want to leave work on time to see your family but you're anxious about leaving something unfinished).
16. When you've treated someone you care about badly and you're feeling guilty or ashamed about it.
17. When you're experiencing regret about a decision you made.
18. When you had an opportunity to learn a lesson previously and have repeated the same mistake.
19. When you want to do the right thing now but you're worried it's too late e.g., you've lost touch with a friend or relative you care about and you feel embarrassed about making contact.
20. When you're unsure about what decision to make (e.g., whether to leave a relationship) and you're criticizing yourself for feeling uncertain or ambivalent.
How to Be Self-Compassionate
Try a three minute writing exercise. Spend that time jotting down how you would talk to yourself if you were treating yourself in a kind and understanding way. Or, just talk to yourself. Self-compassion needs to include 3 components.
1. Mindfulness (Acknowledging that you're a having a moment of suffering)
2. Common Humanity (Acknowledging that suffering is part of life. You can also acknowledge that whatever type of suffering you're experiencing is probably something a lot of your fellow humans can relate to. Self-criticism tends to make us feel different from other people, isolated and lonely. Self-compassion involves a sense of common humanity).
3. Kindness (Acknowledging that your desire for yourself is to be free from suffering, regardless of how your own behavior might have contributed to your/others' suffering. You might also acknowledge your desire for any other people involved to be free from suffering, if applicable).
This 3 pronged model of self-compassion is from Dr Kristin Neff.
Learning to be self-compassionate is a skill. It might take awhile before you feel good at it. As previously mentioned, if you feel like you're "sucking" at it, you can give yourself compassion for this too :)
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You can read my prior articles for Psychology Today here.