When it comes to others, we understand that no one is perfect and that people don’t always make great choices. We are willing to accept our loved ones with all their flaws. Sure, they drive us crazy sometimes, but even then we measure our responses to make sure we don’t hurt them too much or, if we lose it, we apologise after that.
Yet, we don’t extend the same kindness to ourselves. In a survey by the University of Hertfordshire, almost half of the respondents rated their self-acceptance at 5 out of 10 or less, with the average score being just 5.56. At the same time, giving or being kind to others got an average of 7.41 out of 10.
Why do we struggle with self-acceptance and self-compassion?
We grew up with our parents rewarding ‘good’ (desirable) behaviour and punishing or showing less enthusiastic response to behaviours that they found challenging. To a child, the distinction between behaivour and self is not always clear, and we develop the perception very early in our lives that we are good and deserving only when we demonstrate certain type of behaviour. Conversely, when we are not able or willing to act the way we are expected to, our positive sense of self suffers.
As adults, we often believe that we need to strive for perfection, be critical of our mistakes and push ourselves to succeed. We think that, if we berate ourselves for all the things we are not doing up to our standard, it will help us move forward. Research shows that it doesn’t work that way.
Self-compassion improves motivation and boosts happiness
People who accept themselves and treat themselves with compassion see mistakes as a learning opportunity rather than an evidence that they are a failure. They are more willing to show initiative and engage in challenging situations, because they don’t feel as threatened by the outcome. When they make mistakes (as we all inevitably do at some time or another), they bounce back quicker and work harder to rectify the situation or achieve a different outcome.
Being kind to yourself not only contributes to success, but it can also make you happier on many levels: it makes you more optimistic, gives you a balanced perspective on negative events and improves your relationship with yourself and others.
Start by becoming mindful of your self-talk. Meditation, when you are observing your thoughts without clinging to them, can be a helpful tool for noticing what is going on in your head. When you detach from your thoughts, you realise that not everything that comes to your mind is true and it is ok to let it go.
Once you identify where you’re being less than kind to yourself, stop letting those situations run on autopilot, but purposefully step in and imagine you’re talking to your best friend. What would you say if you best friend made a mistake? If she was beating herself up for not living up to her own expectations? Talk to yourself in the same kind and supportive way. Be there for yourself.
Tatiana is a freelance writer and a mum of three living in Sydney. After a 10-years’ break, she has just returned to full-time work. She is still finding time for yoga, meditation and mindfulness, which is making a huge difference to her sanity and her enjoyment of life.