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Harsh Advice to Inspire Self-Compassion

Self-compassion for people who hate being nice to themselves.

Key points

  • People who are not used to kindness may find self-compassion nauseating.
  • Reframing the necessity for self-compassion within the harsh realities of life may help.
  • Being kind to yourself frees you of unreasonable expectations.

Practicing self-compassion can be transformative. Being kind to yourself frees you of unreasonable expectations. Finally, you can experience the grace you extend to others and accept yourself without undue criticism.

But what if you’re the sort of person who finds self-compassion a bit… sappy? Repeating statements like, “I am a good person” or “I deserve happiness” leave you cringing. You wouldn’t be caught dead repeating affirmations in the mirror. It all feels saccharine, silly, and therefore completely untrue.

Perhaps you are so unaccustomed to treating yourself nicely that the whole business makes you feel queasy. Understandable! It’s hard to get used to a new way of being, especially if you come from a social environment that treats self-compassion as weakness.

The good news is, self-compassion doesn’t have to be sugary-sweet. Here are a few bits of tough-love wisdom to inspire self-kindness in even the hardest of hearts. Buckle your seatbelt and prepare to feel kindly towards yourself.

1. You are not special.

Here is an interaction that has taken place countless times in my office over the years.

Client: I have made a terrible mistake. I deserve ridicule and rejection.

Therapist: Theoretically, how would you treat another person who made the exact same mistake?

Client: I would give them the benefit of the doubt.

Therapist: Then why can’t you give yourself the benefit of the doubt?

Client: It’s not the same thing. I’m different.

Let me tell you here and now: you aren’t different. You are not special and unique from the rest of humankind. You are not especially worse than other people. You are not especially good either. You are just a person, like all the rest of us.

Consider the conceit of thinking that you, you alone among all people, cannot make the same mistakes that other people can. Do you have access to some plane of perfection that the rest of us have yet to achieve? Give yourself a break. You’re not special, and you don’t deserve especially harsh punishment.

2. It’s not all about you.

Are you haunted by the suspicion that everyone secretly hates you? You are certain that the moment you make a mistake, the reviews will roll in, and they will be unflattering. People's every word and glance could be a coded message of disapproval. You find yourself consumed by what (you guess) others think of you.

I have bad news and good news. Coincidentally, both are the same. The people you know are not thinking about you. They are not spending their precious time poring over your successes and failures. True, others may momentarily notice your missteps, then quickly go back to thinking about their own lives.

After all, it’s not all about you. This is excellent news; thank goodness it’s not all about you. We are incredibly self-focused creatures. Everyone is too preoccupied to devote much time to judging you. In a way, it may be a bit self-centered to assume that they are.

Relax into the truth that you are only one person among billions of interconnected lives. Your performance is not being evaluated. You are free to stop trying so hard. And when you do run across a truly judgmental person, carefully consider if their good opinion is worth your hard work.

3. The world is brutal, but it’s also wonderful.

At times it can seem that life is just a succession of suffering. You expect to work hard and make good things happen. Instead, you are subject to a series of painful disappointments, often out of your control.

What, you may ask, did you ever do to deserve all this pain and hardship? You review your life with a critical eye, looking for where you went wrong. After all, it seems logical that if you had made the right choices, the right life would have been assigned to you.

Fortunately or unfortunately, good choices don’t always lead to perfect outcomes. Life is, as we are all told but so rarely believe deep down, completely unfair. Terrible events befall undeserving people, and people who commit vile acts continue to thrive.

The world that we live in is brutal, sometimes violent, and full of pain. The fact that the nature of the world has affected your life is not your fault. To truly grow up, you must accept the unfairness of life and look at your misfortunes with compassion.

Accepting the horrors of the world can also be a path to appreciating the true miracle of kindness. Amid humankind’s deepest suffering, we find stories of the most profound compassion. Against the backdrop of life’s ugliness, we begin to notice the world's loveliness. Moments of kindness, lightness, and beauty shine like fireflies in the darkness.

Endeavor to take the bad along with the good. Stop beating yourself up for participating in life as it is. You have no control over the nature of existence.

4. Your life is going to end.

Finally, the harshest reality is the certainty of our imminent death. This is not pleasant to think about and almost impossible to imagine. But it is perfectly true—our lives are finite.

A preoccupation with death is generally considered a bad sign in mental health. But I think facing your final destination is perfectly healthy in reasonable doses. Remembering that we will die helps us remember to live. It provides clarity on the things that truly matter to us.

And perhaps this awareness can free you, at last, to treat yourself with kindness. Your time on this earth isn’t guaranteed. And since you cannot be free of yourself, you are your most steadfast companion. You might as well treat yourself as a beloved friend rather than an enemy.

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