- Some people struggle more than others with being overly self-critical.
- Feeling unfulfilled is often rooted in deep feelings of inadequacy and emotional insecurity.
- Self-compassion can often be an effective lever for change.
- Self-compassion can help you enjoy the life you already have rather than putting conditions on it.
Overview- What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion is part of personal well-being and growth. It encompasses treating oneself with kindness, understanding, and acceptance, especially during times of struggle, failure, or self-criticism. By cultivating self-compassion, individuals create a nurturing and supportive inner environment that fosters resilience and emotional well-being. It involves recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and experiences hardships and responding to oneself with the same empathy and care that one would offer to a loved one.
What are the benefits of self-compassion?
Self-compassion helps to reduce self-judgment and perfectionism, allowing individuals to embrace their imperfections and accept themselves as they are. It also plays a pivotal role in managing stress and enhancing mental health, as it counteracts negative self-talk and promotes self-care practices. When individuals practice self-compassion, they cultivate a sense of worthiness and self-love, which boosts confidence, fosters personal growth, and enables them to navigate life’s challenges with greater resilience and authenticity.
What are the consequences of being overly self-critical?
There is a strong correlation between being overly self-critical and feeling dissatisfied with your life. Feeling unfulfilled in your career, friend circles, family, or romantic relationships is closely related to how much you critique yourself.
Some people struggle more than others with being overly self-critical. In some cases, a tendency to judge yourself harshly can be traced to past trauma or not receiving enough emotional nurturing as a child.
If you experienced trauma or were not given the warm, nurturing emotional support you needed as a child, you might still struggle as an adult with being especially self-critical, having a negative self-image, being a perfectionist, and taking setbacks and failures very personally. You might also struggle to have healthy relationships with others and feel dissatisfied with how your life has turned out, professionally or personally.
Feeling unfulfilled, inadequate, and insecure
If you don’t experience fulfillment at work or in your relationships, check if you feel that you’re not measuring up to your own expectations or the expectations of other people of how your life “should” be. Feelings of inadequacy and emotional insecurity tend to intensify when you benchmark yourself against the accomplishments of others and are overly concerned about societal expectations.
If you think you’re falling short in certain areas or not living up to your own or others’ expectations, you may have a sense of inadequacy. This can make you feel that you’re not good enough, or lack confidence in your abilities and accomplishments. These insecurities can diminish the amount of fulfillment you enjoy from your work and your relationships.
Having self-compassion can often be the most effective path forward—much more effective than changing your circumstances!
While it might seem counter-intuitive, changing the aspects of your life that you THINK you need to change might not actually be what you really need! That’s because while you might enjoy certain benefits from changing jobs/relationships (insert whichever change you think you need), changing your external circumstances still won’t change your deep emotional experiences.
Practically, that means that you’ll most likely continue to feel inadequate and dissatisfied with your life, as soon as the novelty of your improved circumstances wears off. On the other hand, developing self-compassion will help you change your EXPERIENCE of the life you’re already living, whether or not your external circumstances improve.
Learning to tolerate self-doubt is an essential skill that empowers individuals to pursue actions aligned with their core values. Self-doubt often creeps in when one embarks on a new path or takes a leap of faith toward their aspirations. However, acknowledging and accepting this doubt as a natural part of growth can be transformative.
By embracing self-doubt, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of their values and priorities, enabling them to make conscious choices. Tolerating self-doubt means recognizing uncertainty without allowing it to dictate your actions. It involves developing resilience, self-compassion, and a willingness to take calculated risks.
When you are able to navigate through self-doubt, you unlock the potential to accomplish incredible things while staying true to your authentic self. Ultimately, by embracing self-doubt, individuals can transform it into a catalyst for personal growth, paving the way for a life that aligns with their deepest values and aspirations.
The power of vulnerability
Most of the time, people who are highly self-critical and dissatisfied with their lives struggle with the pressure of needing to be perfect. They’re uncomfortable showing the world that they’re struggling in life and want to have life “figured out” and presented to the world perfectly, tied with a ribbon.
Feeling inadequate is uncomfortable and sometimes terrifying. So you might find that you numb your discomfort with substances or behaviors in an attempt to avoid unpleasant emotions or having to expose your vulnerability to others. The consequence is living superficially and feeling unfulfilled and unhappy. This can manifest in different areas of your life, such as dissatisfaction with work or problems in your relationships.
The external manifestations of inner discontent are not the source of the difficulty. Rather than trying to change your life circumstances, real happiness comes from the power of vulnerability; giving yourself permission to be imperfect, not to have your life figured out, and being okay with where you are right now.
Seven tips for self-compassion
Rather than putting conditions on your happiness, self-compassion can help you enjoy the life you already have.
While it is certainly commendable to do what you can to improve your circumstances, these tips will help you develop the self-compassion to enjoy the life you already have, whether or not your circumstances improve:
- Practice mindfulness and gratitude: Pay attention to your thoughts, your feelings, and what is really happening in your life. Choose to focus on the good of what IS going well in your life rather than what you want to change. There’s always something to celebrate if you look for it!
- Challenge self-criticism: Notice when you are being hard on yourself or engaging in negative self-talk. Remember that everyone makes mistakes and has challenges. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would extend to a close friend.
- Set realistic expectations: Be mindful of setting overly high or unrealistic expectations for yourself. Recognize your limitations and be okay with them. Nobody is perfect. You’re a work in progress, along with everyone else!
- Prioritize self-care: Eat and sleep well, and exercise regularly. Make time for activities that nurture your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Prioritize whatever you need right now.
- Foster connection. You are not alone in your struggles. Connect with others who may be going through similar challenges and seek support, or think of someone else you can help and see how good you feel when you give to someone else!
- View any failures or setbacks as opportunities for growth and improvement, rather than reflections of your worth as a person.
- Seek support. A trained professional can usually be more helpful than people in your inner circle, without many of the concerns you might have about opening up to a friend or family member.
Perhaps most importantly, be patient with yourself as you cultivate self-compassion, and remember that anything worthwhile doesn’t usually happen overnight. Changing the way you’ve always viewed and treated yourself takes time and a commitment to improve your life.
Your efforts now can yield immeasurable benefits for your lifelong happiness in the years to come. You deserve to invest in yourself and enjoy a wonderful life!
References and further reading
Ferrari, M., Hunt, C., Harrysunker, A., Abbott, M., Beath, A., & Einstein, D. (2019). Self-Compassion Interventions and Psychosocial Outcomes: a Meta-Analysis of RCTs. Mindfulness. https://doi.org/10.1007/S12671-019-01134-6.
Neff, K. (2011). Self-Compassion, Self-Esteem, and Well-Being. Social and Personality Psychology Compass. https://doi.org/10.1111/J.1751-9004.2010.00330.X.
Sirois, F., Kitner, R., & Hirsch, J. (2015). Self-compassion, affect, and health-promoting behaviors. Health psychology: official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0000158.
Tao, J., He, K., & Xu, J. (2021). The mediating effect of self-compassion on the relationship between childhood maltreatment and depression. Journal of affective disorders. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2021.05.019.