“Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Do not treat others as you would not like to be treated”. The golden rule. I used to repeat it to my children so frequently when they were younger that they’d start nodding their heads and rolling their eyes as soon as I started. Like many parents, I wanted my daughters to grow into compassionate, empathetic and respectful members of society. I realize now that I missed the opportunity to add words that would underscore the importance of treating themselves the way they treated others. If I could go back, I’d reinforce the importance of treating yourself with kindness.

Most of us do not treat ourselves as well as we would treat a good friend. Studies show that almost 80% of us are much kinder to our friends than we are to ourselves. We can be downright cruel and unforgiving to ourselves. Why do we tend to be so hard on the one person we should be caring for the most? Do we think criticism will actually motivate us to try harder or do better? Most of us are already doing the best we can at every turn. And if we really considered criticism to be a strong motivator, I think we’d at least consider using that tactic on the ones we love most. But we don’t. At least not deliberately. It’s mean. And we don’t want to be mean to the people we love. Yet, being mean to ourselves is apparently okay.

It’s as if we hold ourselves to a standard of perfection that we know is absurd and then kick ourselves when absurdity wins. If perfection was a real thing, we’d be holding the people we hold in the highest esteem to that standard. And we don’t. Because perfection is not a real standard. When those closest to us come, upset over something they are, some way they feel, or something they’ve said, done, not said, or not done, we tend to apply a generous dose of compassion. Even if a mistake they’ve made is a monstrous one, we’ll be quick to point out that we all make mistakes, that we’re human, that our mistakes don’t define us, that each of us is so much more than that. But do we really believe that when it comes to ourselves? Or are we unconsciously thinking perfection is within our reach?

Selfishness, Selflessness, and Selffulness

It’s easy to laugh at that. I don’t think most of us treat ourselves cruelly because we think we’re better than everyone else and remotely capable of attaining anything resembling perfection. Most of us are quick to admit we’re flawed and don’t even aspire to be perfect. Still, we don’t seem able to accept our flaws without judgment. We tend to conflate the things about ourselves we can and want to change to improve our overall wellbeing and those we can’t. There’s a big difference between wanting to improve yourself and beating yourself up for not being good enough.

My theory is that many of us are understandably confused. We were raised to value kindness, which we erroneously equated with selflessness. The quality of caring more about what others need and want than you do, the definition of selflessness, surreptitiously became the definition or at least a core component of kindness for many of us. Maybe this happened because kindness to others seemed to be the antithesis of selfishness and selflessness is the opposite of selfishness. Selfishness doesn’t seem kind. Even if you didn’t consciously opt into selflessness-ism, you might have consciously opted out of being selfish and the result was the same.

Selflessness is not the noble virtue it’s cracked up to be. In an earlier blog post, I shared a favorite Mel Robbins quote, to the effect that when you don’t put yourself first, you’re teaching everyone that you come second. If you’re familiar with Mel then you know she’s not advocating for selfishness, merely pointing out that you, that we, are important. Teaching everyone that you don’t matter as much as they do doesn’t sound like kindness at all. We need to include ourselves in the kindness equation to make it complete. I’d like to suggest that we set aside thoughts of selfishness being bad and selflessness being good and move in the direction of embracing selffulness (which my auto-correct changed to selflessness three times). The opposite of being selfless is being selfful, meeting your own needs while respecting the needs of others. I aspire to selffulness.

Making Friends

Maybe we can use this framing to start treating ourselves better. How can we internalize self-compassion and become more selfful? Kristin Neff, the pioneer of self compassion, defines it, in its simplest terms, as “treating yourself with the same kindness and care that you would treat a good friend”. She goes on to say, “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”

The first step in being kinder to yourself is to befriend yourself and the second has to start with being aware when you aren’t being kind to your new friend. That may not be as simple as it sounds since negative self-talk is a reactive pattern or habit, not something you think about before doing. If you read my blog post on exercise, you know my thoughts on the difficulty of both breaking and creating habits. When the voice in your head berates you, calling you an idiot or worse every time you make a mistake (or even just breathe) it’s important to start by acknowledging that reaction. Because the voice is a reaction. It is not Google with a soul. In other words, it doesn’t know everything. It might be wrong. And you don’t have to believe it just because it can be loud and relentless. Reactions are often patterns we fall into that can be changed.

Once you acknowledge the reaction and recognize your patterns, you can work on dismantling them. They’re not helping you. Flipping the script is the ultimate act of self-compassion. When the berating begins, take a breath, consider what you might tell a friend who said such things to or about themselves and apply it to your new friend, yourself. You may not believe it the first time so don’t be afraid to rinse and repeat.

It can also be helpful to use the DBT skill of coping ahead. Since we can rarely remember what works for us once emotions take over, it can be helpful to have a toolkit at the ready. This would involve preparing a list of negative things you might think about yourself in scenarios that might trigger negative reactions, together with a list of compassionate responses.

There’s no magic to the new script you write for yourself, no special language that must or should be used. Your own words, that sound like you, are likely to have a greater impact than language you borrow from a therapist or self help book. Remember that you’re the one person in your life who is truly there through thick and through thin. That’s a real friend. Celebrate that friendship. Extend kindness.

Thinking and Trying

Something to think about: “I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent. They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.” – Kristen Neff

Something to try: Cultivate kindness by searching for a thought you had earlier in the day that was overly critical, writing it down, then turning your criticism into a statement of self-compassion. This exercise was suggested by Taylor Kreiss, an L.A.-based life-coach and speaker who draws on positive psychology and philosophy to advise clients on “the art and science of a happy life.” 

Coaching Can Help You Flip Your Script

Coaching can help you develop a self compassionate response pattern if your default is to treat yourself unkindly.

Similar Posts

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *