By Jennifer Yarbro, LCPC
Imagine your best friend calls you in the middle of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. She just found out she didn’t get the dream job she interviewed for and now she’s worried about how to make ends meet. Her teenage son stormed out of the house in a fury because she took away the car keys. And to top it all off, the cat threw up on the rug. You respond to her by saying, “Well, it’s no surprise you came up short again. You just don’t have what it takes. Besides you are too old. No one will hire you. Let’s face it, you are an imposter as a parent. You don’t know how to handle your kids. If you need proof, look on Facebook. Everyone else’s kids are perfect! Don’t get me started on the cat….”
Unthinkable, right? But how often do we meet our own hurt, disappointment, confusion, and struggle with this kind of self-recrimination? The next time you are feeling inadequate, isolated, stressed out, and depressed—stop. Listen to the stories you are telling yourself. Write them down. Ask yourself, would I talk to a friend this way? If the answer is of course not, you might try relating to yourself with a little self-compassion, also known as friendliness.
Dr. Kristen Neff and Dr. Chris Germer, authors of Mindful Self-Compassion, have created an entire training designed to help us navigate the extremes of self-pity and self-flagellation. Drs. Neff and Germer suggest:
- Recognize that you are suffering. Pause in the middle of the terrible horrible, no good, very bad day, and say “ouch, this hurts.”
- Connect with a sense of common humanity. At any given moment, thousands of people in this City are also experiencing struggle, disappointment, hurt, fear, and shame. You have not been singled out. We are all vulnerable, imperfect, and we make mistakes that we regret. Many of us suffer loss, hurt and trauma. Everyone wants to be happy, avoid pain, and is worthy of safety, respect, kindness and comfort.
- Accept the moment of suffering without trying to change it. Bring your bare awareness to the physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings that arise without trying to deny, suppress, or change them. Refrain from judging or assigning blame for now.
- Lean in and offer a touch of warmth and kindness. Try saying, “I am sorry you are hurting right now dear one. You really wanted that job.”
- Consider writing a letter to yourself full of the kind of empathy and encouragement you’d offer a good friend. Send it by reading it aloud to yourself.
The culture around us is constantly signaling that we are not living up to some unreachable standard, but we don’t have to buy into that notion. When we take time to become familiar with our thoughts, feelings, and habits, we can begin to see them as just that, instead of proof or our unworthiness. We can support ourselves in making changes that lead to more lasting happiness and free ourselves from the never-ending self-improvement project.
As we learn to make friends with ourselves as we are, the way we treat ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbors, strangers, and even our enemies, begins to soften. Our minds and hearts become infused with warmth, clarity, and kindness. The bubble of our self-absorption pops and we experience our connection to this earth and all the people on it. We develop a natural desire to care for our world and we begin to see that self-compassion is not self-indulgence after all, but a radical practice of peace.
Jennifer Yarbro, LCPC is a former Clinical Therapist at JCS.
JCS provides individuals and families throughout Central Maryland with a broad array of services and resources for emotional and behavioral health, aging and caregiving, parenting, job seeking, financial stability, and living with disabilities. To learn how JCS can help you live your best life, please visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.