In my last blog, Navigating Your Way to Success, I compared attaining success to navigating the labyrinth game in which you roll a metal ball around a maze, trying to avoid holes along the way. I basically explained that by being self-aware, you can see some of the pitfalls in your own path to success. Nobody gets through the maze – or life – without falling at least sometimes. So, it’s important to be able to handle those setbacks well. By being self-accepting and having compassion for your struggles, you can remain calm during difficult times and be resilient when you fall in one of those holes (getting back to negotiating that maze).
Self-compassion can prove to be a real challenge if you tend to relate to yourself in a negative way; but it is a worthy goal that can be reached. A good way to begin is by practicing acceptance of your experiences.
Whether you are comfortable or not with your thoughts and feelings, you are experiencing them. So, take time to allow yourself to be aware of, and curious about, them. Acknowledge them without judgment. When you do judge, note how being harsh makes you feel worse; and return to just being aware.
When you struggle with being critical of yourself, it might be helpful to imagine a child in a similar situation; and how you would respond. For instance, you might be stressed at work and angry with yourself for not doing as well as you’d like. If you cannot stop beating yourself up, you might want to consider how you would respond to a child who was struggling at school. Would you tell her what a failure she is? Would you berate her for not being smart or capable? Or, would you wrap your arms around her and tell her you care, letting her know that you are there to help? If you treated her the way you treat yourself, she would certainly feel worse about her situation and herself. However, you probably wouldn’t do that. Instead, your actions would be more similar to the second option. And, as a result, she would eventually stop crying and, even though she still had a problem, at least feel loved, hopeful, and supported in trying hard again.
As you develop compassionate self-awareness in your life, you will need to move your focus between self-compassion and self-awareness. You will find, though, that there are times when the two come together. Those are the times when you understand your urge to dive into the refrigerator; or your frustration with being unable to find a suitable partner; or the ways that you perpetuate your chronic stress or anxiety. And in response, you are compassionate to these struggles. It’s at times like this – when you experience compassionate self-awareness – that you are most likely to feel good about yourself in the here-and-now while guiding yourself firmly-but-gently toward healthier behaviors and a happier future.
Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.
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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.
Personal change through compassionate self-awareness