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Tools & Resources

How To Be Kinder To Yourself

Do those scenarios ring a bell? Whenever you speak in a group, you get anxious, as you are afraid of making a fool of yourself, and how others will judge you. Or, you have been getting some bad grades for your papers, and you think to yourself: “I'm a horrible writer. I made so many mistakes.” Or, you are swallowed by a prevailing sense of loneliness when you feel that you do not have friends, partners, or family to lean on, and you say to yourself: “I'm not lovable. I may never find my soul mate.”

These examples illustrate how frequently we become the harshest critics of ourselves. Being compassionate to others is common talk, but we are rarely taught to treat ourselves kindly. Self-compassion seems like a novel concept in our competition- and results-drive culture. As college students, you may have trodden through numerous moments of self-doubt. Self-compassion means embracing who we are with kindness and acceptance, especially when we suffer, or feel inadequate. At the core of self-compassion is accepting the fact that we are all flawed and imperfect human beings. According to Leary, Tate, Adams, Allen, and Hancock (2007), relating to ourselves in a kind, friendly manner is fundamental to maintaining our emotional wellbeing. At first glance, it is hard to believe that self-compassion, which guides us to experience and acknowledge difficult feelings with kindness, paradoxically helps us process and let go of them more fully (Neff, 2015). However, more and more researchers consented that self-compassion is a transformative tool to build a more resilient self, and a healing power that helps us cope with the many challenges in college.

Now, you may wonder, if we always comfort ourselves in face of adversities, we may not garner enough motivation to improve our performance. This notion that self-compassion somehow morphs into complacency or hedonism is a common misconception about nurturing healthy relationships with ourselves. To apply self-compassion in everyday college life, walk through this scenario with me: one day you received an unsatisfactory grade, your hostile inner voices emerged quickly: “I’m so stupid. I can never have the career I want.” Feelings of shame usually follow such negative self-talks. When we feel ashamed, we are more likely to lose faith in ourselves, and eventually stop trying altogether. Alternatively, we can endorse a more compassionate approach by honestly acknowledging the setback, empathizing with our unhappiness, and encouraging ourselves to move beyond this momentary bump in the road. If we can view our failings with kindness, rather than judgment, we are more likely to be happy, and what’s more, we are better able to care for others too.

On the surface, self-compassion may begin with a simple pat on our shoulders – there, there, you’re doing great. However – I am not going to lie – achieving a genuine state of self-compassion is a challenging endeavor. Self-compassion, per psychologist Richard Schwartz’s depiction, is “a journey into the multiple parts of yourself – the good, the bad, the confused, the frightened, the abandoned – so as to make friends with those parts on the deepest level”.  The first thing you can do to jumpstart the life-long practice of self-compassion is trying to catch yourself criticizing yourself. When your inner critic pops up again and again, instead of blaming yourself for failing to be self-compassionate, try to give yourself a hug, and say to yourself: “Hey, what I’m going through is really tough. I am sorry this is happening. I’m here for you. Being able to recognize my self-doubt is a great achievement already!”

In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”.  Yes, that’s right – you have the power to change your inner dialogues!

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