Why No One Deserves Your Compassion More Than You Do

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Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

Source: Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

Self-crit­i­cism can help you to push through prob­lems and set­backs, dri­ving you to suc­ceed. But it can also set you up for fail­ure, under­min­ing your morale and leav­ing you feel­ing bad­ly about yourselfeven in the face of suc­cess. Know­ing the dif­fer­ence between healthy and destruc­tive self-crit­i­cism is the first step toward using self-crit­i­cism wise­ly.

With healthy self-crit­i­cism, peo­ple focus on fix­ing their mis­takes in the task at handnot on fix­ing them­selves. Because they accept that mis­takes and weak­ness­es are part of being human, they are kind to them­selves even (or espe­cial­ly) as they strug­gle. They also react with curios­i­ty: I failed at this task. I won­der how I can do bet­ter next time?

In the same cir­cum­stances, what dri­ves peo­ple with a ten­den­cy toward unhealthy self-crit­i­cism is a fear of being inad­e­quate. This fear becomes a taskmas­ter that tries to whip them into shape. They attack them­selves by say­ing, Im such a fail­ure, along with cut­ting them­selves down with razor-sharp crit­i­cisms about their very human strug­gles, inad­e­qua­cies, and fail­ures (or feared fail­ures). Such self-fla­gel­la­tion may dri­ve them to per­sist and even accom­plish a goal, but the cost is high: They expe­ri­ence them­selves as fail­ures (or poten­tial fail­ures) no mat­ter how much they accom­plish.

To be suc­cess­ful and hap­py, it is essen­tial that you sep­a­rate the idea of fail­ing from see­ing your­self as a fail­ure. To do this, con­sid­er the fol­low­ing truths:

1. You have val­ue as a per­son thats based on who you are. Its a val­ue that goes beyond your per­for­mance.

To help you appre­ci­ate your val­ue as a per­son, think about the peo­ple in your life who have tru­ly loved you or val­ued your friend­ship. Then think about a time when you did not per­form as well as you would have want­ed on some par­tic­u­lar task. Did they (or would they) val­ue you less? Prob­a­bly not. Sim­i­lar­ly, con­sid­er how you would feel toward them if they did poor­ly on a task. How would you feel toward them, for exam­ple, if they total­ly failed at try­ing to set up an audio sys­tem for their TV? While you might not go to them for help with a sim­i­lar project, you would also prob­a­bly not val­ue them any less as a per­son.

In times when you are less upset, prac­tice think­ing about this; allow the truth of it to sink in. Some­thing inside you will want to reject it. Acknowl­edge this, but then chal­lenge your­self to feel the truth of it any­way.

2. The ben­e­fits of feel­ing emo­tion­al­ly sup­port­ed and encour­aged out­weigh those of being crit­i­cized and bul­lied.

Self-encour­age­ment and self-com­pas­sion can help you feel good about your­self while moti­vat­ing you to per­sist. Self-bul­ly­ing may dri­ve you to suc­ceed, but you will not be able to ful­ly enjoy that suc­cess.

Researchers Barnard and Cur­ry (2011) reviewed numer­ous empir­i­cal stud­ies and found that high­ly self-com­pas­sion­ate peo­ple tend to have greater life sat­is­fac­tion, a greater sense of well-being, and more opti­mism than those with low self-com­pas­sion. They have more of a sense of pur­pose and mas­tery, are more con­sci­en­tious in per­form­ing tasks, show more per­son­al growth ini­tia­tive, and dis­play more resilience after per­ceived fail­ures. Self-com­pas­sion also showed to be unre­lat­ed to low­er­ing ones per­son­al stan­dards.

All of this sup­ports the idea that devel­op­ing self-com­pas­sion can help you feel hap­pi­er while also sup­port­ing your desire to suc­ceed.

One of the best ways to ful­ly under­stand and absorb this is to think about how you would respond to a child who was upset about fail­ing at a task, like a test in school or a Lit­tle League game. If you approach the child with scold­ing and crit­i­cism, that child would like­ly withdrawand pos­si­bly give up. How­ev­er, if you were empath­ic and com­pas­sion­ate, they would be more like­ly to feel good about them­selves. This would help ener­gize their inner strength to per­sist toward their goal. Impor­tant­ly, they would also be like­ly to incor­po­rate cor­rec­tive crit­i­cisms about their recent per­for­mance into improve­ments in their ongo­ing efforts.

You might feel an urge to jump over self-com­pas­sion and get right to crit­i­ciz­ing yourselfto mer­ci­less­ly berate your­self for mis­takes and push hard­er for suc­cess. But rather than pun­ish­ing your­self for being inad­e­quate, nur­tur­ing self-com­pas­sion opens you to feel­ing hap­pi­ly moti­vat­ed to pur­sue ever-greater suc­cess.

New Harbinger Publications/with permission

Source: New Har­bin­ger Publications/with per­mis­sion

Leslie Beck­er-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist in pri­vate prac­tice and is on the med­ical staff at Robert Wood John­son Uni­ver­si­ty Hos­pi­tal, Som­er­set in Somerville, NJ. She is also a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor for the Web­MD blog Rela­tion­ships and is the rela­tion­ship expert on WebMDs Rela­tion­ships and Cop­ing Com­mu­ni­ty. She is also the author of Inse­cure in Love.

To receive email noti­fi­ca­tion of new blog post­ings by Leslie Beck­er-Phelps, click here.

Mak­ing Change blog posts are for gen­er­al edu­ca­tion­al pur­pos­es only. They may or may not be rel­e­vant for your par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion; and they should not be relied upon as a sub­sti­tute for pro­fes­sion­al assis­tance.

Per­son­al change through com­pas­sion­ate self-aware­ness

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