My marriage failed because I didn’t work hard enough. If I was prettier or better, he would have changed for me. I am obese and weigh too much for anybody to love me as I am. Nobody will want to date me because I’m a single-mom. I’ll just tell myself I don’t want to date anyone. I failed my exam. I will never make it in my chosen career path because I’m just not smart enough so I should shoot for something easier. I will never be worthy of a promotion. I shouldn’t even ask for a promotion, because they might just figure out I’m a phony and fire me on the spot. Why would my children ever want to grow up to be like me? I don’t spend enough time with my children. I am failing my children because they aren’t in enough after-school activities. My children are going to grow up and hate me because I was too focused on my career that I am failing at anyways.
I have had my share of horrible self-talk. Every single thing I wrote above are things I have thought to myself. It brings me to tears thinking of how harsh I have been to myself. All of the times I truly believed I simply wasn’t good enough when I was giving it my all. I know we can all relate. Some more than others. Doubt creeps in. It finds your weakness, and then you ruminate uncontrollably. Sometimes it keeps you awake at night. Sometimes it causes you to lose your appetite and maybe other times tells you to have a little extra dessert to fill the emptiness. Negative self-talk can severely impact your outlook on life and what you’re able to accomplish.
I know negative self-talk does not improve my life. I am still not immune, but I have worked very hard to change this thinking pattern. I have been on a journey of self-discovery. I have been reading books. I have watched TED talks. My last 2.5 years has been filled with personal development and self-help. One of the things that has stood out to me in my journey has been the concept of self-compassion. Self-Compassion is a relatively simple idea. According to Wikipedia Self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. When I think about the meaning behind it, one of the many empowering videos by Kristina Kuzmic was likely my first true introduction to this idea of not criticizing myself and instead offering myself the same compassion I would offer a friend going through what I am going through.
Only recently I discovered the term Self-Compassion after reading The Confidence Code. In it, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman introduce Self-Compassion as a Confidence Cousin. I now have a word for this thing I’ve been trying to add into my life. I am not simply ignoring my failures or short-comings. I now use them as a source to remind myself I am always learning and growing, the same as I would any of my friends or loved ones. If we want to continue to advance our lives and the world around us, we have to admit our mistakes and shortcomings and work to fix what we can. However, ruminating uncontrollably on our failures does not improve anything. Instead I’ve had to learn to accept these things and move forward more quickly. I have to remind myself that each failure and mistake is another opportunity for me to stretch myself to be better.
So if any of the things I said in my first paragraph resonate with you, let me break down how I was able to practice self-compassion to break the negative self-talk.
My marriage failed because I didn’t work hard enough. If I was prettier or better, he would have changed for me. I am obese and weigh too much for anybody to love me as I am. Nobody will want to date me because I’m a single-mom. This is a tough one. Frankly, I cannot say I did this alone. I was lucky enough to meet my partner nearly 2.5 years ago and it was truly through his love for me that I was able to break through on this one. I know I had shortcomings that may have contributed to my divorce, but I had to simply recognize that I couldn’t bear the entire weight of what happened on my shoulders alone – it takes 2 people to end up divorced. As for the idea that nobody would love me, I had so much self-doubt that I had no idea the first date with my partner was a first date because I wasn’t sure he could possibly be interested in me. But I was willing to be vulnerable and put myself out there and found out he reciprocated. My mind was practically spinning as I had to wrap my head around the idea that all of my negative self-talk that I had convinced myself I’d never again be worthy of love was wrong. I had to reassess everything I told myself. Eventually, I recognized that I would never tell another woman she wasn’t worthy of love unless she changed her body, so why would I think that of myself. I had a few incredibly supportive friends who made sure I knew I was absolutely worthy to find love again and talked me through dating as it was my first time back at it in over a decade. These friends shared in my excitement and nervousness and joy, and they and helped me feel worthy just as I am. My partner proved them right. The bottom line is simply, we are ALL worthy of love.
I failed my exam. I will never make it in my chosen career path because I’m just not smart enough so I should shoot for something easier. I will never be worthy of a promotion. I shouldn’t even ask for a promotion, because they might just figure out I’m a phony and fire me on the spot. I am still working on this one. I have made progress though. I realized that I cannot expect promotions when I think I am ready, but that I should keep working to develop my skills regardless and always make sure I verbally share my contributions and be clear about my goals with my manager and my leaders. I have realized that one setback in taking exams does not forever doom me to incompetence because most people don’t pass every exam on their first try. Being truly committed to the actuarial career meant I needed to build my resilience after failing an exam. I knew I couldn’t give up on my chosen career path. It may have taken me a few years, but I am finally back on track having passed my second exam roughly 4 years after passing my first exam. In short, if you have career goals, don’t ever ever ever give up!
Why would my children ever want to grow up to be like me? I don’t spend enough time with my children. I am failing my children because they aren’t in enough after-school activities. My children are going to grow up and hate me because I was too focused on my career that I am failing at anyways. This one takes all the self-compassion. I know my kids know they are loved. They are signed up for after-school activities at their school that don’t require extra-shuttling. I work very hard to provide them a loving home and safe transportation. I do everything I can every day to give them the best possible life. Even when I come home exhausted from a long day of work, we still sit down for dinner together and talk about our day with one another. They have household responsibilities and are learning basic skills that will help them survive when they are on their own. I have to trust the love I show them is enough and simply remind myself that everything I do is for them as much or more than it is for me.
So self-compassion is like being your own BFF when you’re having a hard day, week, month, or year. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lean on your support network. It isn’t an excuse for failure. Self-Compassion can help you build a brighter future. A future where you like the person you are a bit more and where you believe in yourself.
Here is another link to check out more on Self-Compassion, with some great action items.