By Felicity Dineen, LCPC
As a child we learn many different rules: Don’t talk to strangers, play nicely, share, say “please” and “thank you,” always ask permission, eat your veggies to get dessert, and so many more. While every family has their own individual set of rules, there is one rule that almost every child is familiar with, and that is The Golden Rule: Treat others as you want others to treat you, or some variation thereof. This rule is taught at home, at schools, at church and is a message we have heard the majority of our lives. It is a rule that makes sense and needs little explanation. Of course we should treat others with the respect and kindness that we would want from others. So why is it so difficult to apply that rule in the opposite direction and treat ourselves with the love and respect that we give others? In other words, why are we any less important than anyone else?
For many, the motivation for change comes from our inner critic sending us negative, harmful messages about our abilities and self: messages such as “You’re lazy,” “You’re a slob,” “You’re not smart enough,” and “You shouldn’t eat that.” This is our inner critic’s way of attempting to motivate us to be better by shaming us. Typically, all this does is make us feel inadequate and leads to feelings of failure. These are statements we would never use to motivate a friend, partner, sibling, or child to help them reach a goal or instill a sense of motivation. So, why do we use them on ourselves? I am here to give you the permission to say “thank you” to your inner critic and try a different approach: self-compassion.
Self-compassion is applying the golden rule to yourself. It is to treat yourself in a way that you treat others. It is to respect, love, protect, and care for yourself each and every day. It is to let go of judgment and criticism and replace it with patience and gratitude. It is to move away from comparison and move toward appreciation. As with anything in life, self-compassion takes practice and commitment, as this is not how our brains and thoughts typically work. I would challenge you to bring your awareness to the critical messages your brain sends you on a daily basis and write them down. Whatever you managed to write down I would double it and know that that is the amount of negativity that is being sent your way daily. It is no wonder so many of us feel inadequate or depressed.
It is common to seek external validation through social media, friends, and family as a way to boost our self-esteem and be the dictator of our self-worth. This external validation temporarily succeeds at making us feel worthy and hiding our shame; however, the only way to consistently feel our worth is through internal validation. It is only when we internally believe we are worthy of happiness and fulfillment will those traits be fully experienced. This is not to say we cannot strive to be better and improve, however. The distinction lies in the manner in which improvement is implemented. Improvement means looking at a situation where we may have fallen short and congratulating ourselves for trying, while also identifying what could be different next time. It is learning from our shortcomings rather then berating ourselves for them.
Next time your inner critic tries to pull you down, respond by saying “thank you for your intention, but this time I choose compassion.”