by Kelly Cleeve
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: Family Resource Guide 201
Why do we always beat ourselves up when we make mistakes? Are we afraid of judgment? Weighed down by the drive for perfection? Our inner voices seem to be so critical. I know mine is!
When I am overwhelmed by my busy schedule, I fall into a pattern of self-chastising. My house is messy. My kids have eaten scrambled eggs for dinner two nights in a row. I don’t play with my kids enough. I lost my temper. I can keep going, but the list becomes tedious and boring.
If we are going to change our attitudes towards making mistakes and experiencing failure, we need to give ourselves a break! We need to create some room to be imperfect. If mistakes are met with self-criticism, it becomes the breeding ground for fear of failure.
When faced with difficult life situations, or when confronting mistakes, try responding with kindness towards yourself rather than with self-criticism and self-judgement. Self-compassion recognizes that mistakes are normal and that imperfection is what makes us human.
Self-compassion can simply be defined as treating yourself with the same love, kindness and concern that you would show a friend. As human beings, and especially creatures of the Western culture, we tend to show more compassion to others than we do to ourselves. Compassion is something we easily extend to our friends, children, families and colleagues. We reassure them that everything will be okay. We tell them that a mistake can be repaired. We soothe them and try to ease their pain. Why don’t we do this for ourselves? In order to increase our own resilience, we should take this same attitude and turn it inwards.
Self-compassion can be broken down into three separate traits: self-kindness, shared humanity and mindfulness. When life presents a challenge, one’s inner dialogue can make a profound difference. When practicing self-kindness, we are gentle and encouraging. We self-affirm and remind ourselves that we are doing the best that we can in a difficult situation. When we are kind to ourselves, we forgive our shortcomings and remember that no one expects us to be perfect.
It is important that we recognize that failure is a common experience for all humans. Everyone makes mistakes. Bad things happen to the best of us. Disappointment is normal and a part of our shared humanity. Sometimes we get stuck in the “Why me?” mentality. At that moment, we need to broaden our perspective and remember that everyone experiences adversity. Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone in your failure or your challenge. It can be helpful to reach out to others in these moments, seeking empathy, looking for comfort or asking for advice. Self-compassion and recognizing shared humanity combats the feeling of isolation that failure may bring. When we acknowledge the struggle of others, it becomes easier to take responsibility for our own actions and to plan for restorative action.
Mindfulness is the ability to be in the moment, aware of one’s own thoughts and emotions, both positive and negative. To be self-compassionate does not mean that we repress or ignore negative feelings. By definition, compassion cannot be practiced without the acknowledgment of pain and suffering. Mindfulness encourages us to recognize negative feelings and circumstances and to look at it without judgement. Sometimes, we can become so focused on problem solving that we forget to consider our emotions. When one is being mindful, they are able to acknowledge a challenge and the way it makes them feel. However, we must not ruminate in negativity, but simply feel it, show compassion to ourselves and then develop a plan to move on or improve the situation, if we can.
As parents, we can be exceptionally hard on ourselves, yet it is important to remember that little ears are always listening and little eyes are always watching. How we treat ourselves sets an example for our children. If we self-chastise, our children may find this behaviour normal and begin to lack forgiveness for their own errors.
Teaching self-compassion to children can have wonderful benefits. Aside from preventing fear of failure, self-compassion is directly linked to one’s level of self-esteem. Very often, people measure their own self-worth in terms of appearance, performance and social approval. These measures, however, can be unstable. What happens to our self-esteem when we fail? People who are self-compassionate tend to have an increased level of self-esteem, for they are able to separate the action of failure from the quality of who they are as a person. Mistakes and challenge are merely a circumstance and does not define who we are.
Along with a higher level of self-esteem, self-compassionate people can be happier, more optimistic and have an increased life satisfaction, perceived confidence and motivation. They have a healthier physiological response to stress and a reduced rate of negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, rumination, shame, perfectionism and fear of failure. People who practice self-compassion lack self-criticism, for perceived weakness is less threatening and they are aware enough to recognize and manipulate a negative mindset. Don’t we want this for ourselves and for our children?
When you make a mistake, as inevitably you will, remember to be kind. Failure is very rarely catastrophic, more often coming in the form a momentary setback. Acknowledge your feelings and practice self-care. Do a yoga class. Go for a run. Talk about it with a friend, over coffee.
Show kindness and forgiveness to yourself and then carry on. If you struggle to practice self-compassion for the sake of your own well-being, then do it for your children. They may not thank you, but they will grow up learning to be kind to others as well as to themselves.
Kelly Cleeve is a passionate educator with 14 years experience. She is a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, a wife and a mother of two beautiful boys.
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