“The motivation of self compassion arises from love, while the motivation of self criticism arises from fear. Love is more powerful than fear.”
Self Compassion is hard and it is very counterintuitive to how we typically operate as humans. Simply put, we’re a negative species. We have a negativity bias that serves us well up until a point. Oftentimes what happens when we face rejection or failure our self criticism kicks in. It can be quite addictive and spark a spiral of very critical self talk and rumination. If we failed it means we did something wrong so let’s beat ourselves up so that we can be better next time. If we get rejected, let’s critique ourselves as to WHY we weren’t enough.
Been there. Done that. It doesn’t work. In fact it makes things infinitely worse.
Especially in sport, there is definitely an attitude that if we fail we need to get back to the drawing board so we can figure out how to NOT fail again. Many people believe that being self critical is the only way to ensure that we keep making progress. If we accept and use self compassion we will get complacent and lazy. How will we ever succeed? Many people associate self discipline and a solid work ethic with what is actually being overly critical. We constantly analyze, never giving ourselves a break and continue to beat ourselves up. The inner critic is on a roll here.
Research shows that self criticism activates our fight or flight system. This is our threat detection system that pumps cortisol into the body, keeps us on edge and basically signals to us that we’re in danger. Think about that. When we are constantly operating from criticism, we’re operating from fear. Being in sport (both as an athlete and former college coach) I know that operating from fear is no bueno.
What I think is a better approach is using Self Compassion to mindfully turn towards our experience and navigate how we can balance self improvement and the ability to objectively look at our failure or rejection. If we are coming from a place of kindness and compassion RATHER than criticism and fear I think an immense amount of growth can arise.
A couple of definitions to get us started in simple terms:
Empathy : The ability to understand and share the feelings of another
Compassion : Empathy in addition to the desire to alleviate suffering.
Self Compassion: Compassion for the self.
If we were to take the golden rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” around this would be self compassion. Treating ourselves how we generally care for and attend to others.
In Sharon Salzburgs book Real Love (2017) she highlights the importance of self compassion when facing tough stuff. She cites Neff’s work that shows “when we soothe our painful experiences with the healing balm of self compassion, not only are we changing our mental and emotional experience, we’re also changing our body chemistry” (page 17). Self compassion releases oxytocin which increases feelings of trust, calm and safety which are ALL things we need when we are dealing with rejection and failure. When we are practicing Self Compassion we are not being lazy or letting ourselves off the hook. We are acknowledging the fact that we are human and human experiences like rejection and failure hurt and we choose to turn towards that hurt and pain with an intention to care for ourselves. This is a more sustainable approach. Failure and rejection are tough. Continuing to beat yourself up isn’t going to make it hurt any less. So why not try a different approach?
Here is where you can start. Check out my complete Self Compassion series here. This 3 part series will deep dive into Self Compassion and how to start practicing.