It's bad enough to feel anxious or depressed. But what makes the pain so much worse is this nagging inner voice that keeps criticizing us for being afraid or jealous or angry. That is what really brings us down: the many ways in which we can be judgmental and too hard on ourselves.
Let’s say something went wrong at work. One of your clients decided to go with another firm and you feel directly affected. It’s one thing to get over the loss of business. It means loss of income, loss of contacts, loss of reputation.
It wouldn’t be so bad to just let it go and be done with it. But that’s usually not the end of the story. We start to feel that we should’ve known they weren’t happy; that it’s something we did wrong, and it’s solely our responsibility. We should’ve done this to prevent their leaving, and that to find a quick replacement.
We come down hard on ourselves and it's hard to forgive that we can’t read other people’s minds, or potentially made a mistake. It’s unacceptable that we’re human, and humans can’t always know.
What’s needed in order to silence the self-critical voices in out head is self-compassion.
It's important to look at ourselves with the benevolence and understanding we’d offer a child or a good friend. “Don’t worry so much”, we could say to ourselves. “You did everything you could. You worked hard, talked to everyone you could and made a big effort to make the client happy. Sometimes we can’t control all the factors, and I can’t know all the ins and outs of why they left our company.”
It’s important to put yourself in the shoes of someone who will talk you down from your self-blame and relentless criticism.
And it’s not just a psychological strategy to get familiar with self-compassion; there are actual studies that have shown it’s positive affects.
New research concludes that self-compassion leads to “significant positive association with self-reported measures of happiness, optimism, positive affect, wisdom, personal initiative, curiosity and exploration, agreeableness, extroversion, and conscientiousness.”
If we can leave ourselves alone, our whole self-image improves. We cut out stress and fear, we sleep better and have better relationships.
Or, in scientific terms: “Self-compassion predicted significant variance in positive psychological health beyond that attributable to personality.”
If you are a forgiving person, start with yourself. Give yourself a break. You’ll feel better in no time.
Gerti Schoen is a writer and psychotherapist. In her spare time she enjoys learning, being in nature and around animals.