I’m often in a kind of prison cell,
Because I don’t always love myself that well
Gonna break free from that shame and blame,
Free myself from that ball and chain…
Gotta love myself, love myself, love myself harder…
~ from “Love Harder,” by DK&theJoyMachine
We have all been taught, so earnestly and repeatedly, that the way to make change is by critiquing ourselves — identifying what’s “wrong” with us and then fixing it. I think this is one of the biggest hoaxes going.
I don’t think self-criticism ever got me to make any positive changes in my life or gave me greater peace, competency, or effectiveness — it just made me more discouraged and miserable!
In coaching others for both personal transformation and professional development, I continually see how self-criticism sends them into a downward spiral, draining them of energy, hope, or vision. I now believe that probably the greatest form of social change I can help generate in the world is to support others to simply have more loving kindness for themselves.
When I am discouraged or sad, it’s easy to slip into familiar stories:
- “What’s the use?”
- “I’ll never get it right!”
- “It’s pointless.”
- “How could I have done that!”
Yuck! None of this feels good, including in my body. It’s what I call, “toxic stories.” Yet if I can drop down underneath the stories, into what I’m simply feeling (as hard and scary as that can sometimes seem), this is what will give me transformation and relief: to notice that I’m feeling sad or hurt or discouraged and to be OK with it.
If you think about, this is the simplest form of observation (the first step in the Nonviolent Communication model and a game-changer in itself): to simply be with what is (including in my body, and the sensations I notice). This can be challenging. The feelings and sensations can be uncomfortable, so we want to avoid them or stop them.
But if we can be with what is — much like a surfer riding the curl of a big wave — then I find that I often can move quite quickly through what I am feeling. If you think about young children, they feel what they are feeling—at one moment they are crying, another laughing. I think they can move quickly and easily from one feeling to the next because they allow themselves to be fully in the feelings that they are experiencing, rather than trying to talk themselves out of it or shut down.
I also find it helpful to connect with the needs that are up for me. When doing so, I like to remember a moment when that need was fully met for me. This is like taking in the full energy (or “nutrition”) of the need. What’s fascinating to me is that our bodies don’t know the difference between a need being met now or remembering or imagining a moment when it was (or might be) met. By connecting fully with the quality of the need up for me, as met, I usually experience a shift in my body: a calming or soothing of my system, a “re-set.”
Lately, I also do my best to enter what I call deep, radical self-compassion — going to the “root” of my pain and suffering (the original meaning of “radical”) by simply speaking to myself with the same gentleness, kindness and compassion that I would to a young child that I care about: “It’s not always easy to make the best choices,” or “This is really scary,” or “I know you’re lonely, and I’m here for you.” Re-parenting myself—offering myself the love and acceptance that I didn’t always experience when young, is consistently one of the most powerful and healing gifts I can offer myself.
If old trauma comes up and I am going numb and struggling for self-connection, I like to bring myself back into the present moment and my senses: I take a deep breath, notice the feel of my feet on my ground, or what the sun feels like on my face, and notice what I see here and now, around me. Getting back in my body, and the present moment is another way of “being with what is, now.”
Through the practices above, I am able to return to a place of equilibrium. And when I have some peace and my system is soothed, then I have much more capacity for making a request of myself: Are there any actions that I want to take, right now? I break that “looping” cycle of repeating in my mind the same stories and the same blame. I gain perspective, and can better focus on an action that is not re-active but truly grounded in my needs.
Would you like to start practicing radical self-empathy right now? The next time you notice going into a story or judgments, pause, and notice:
- How does it feel in your body, when you think of that story or judgment? Are you clenching or tensing up?
- Drop out of the story. Notice what you’re feeling. Stay with the feeling even if it’s tempting to go back into the story. Speak to yourself the way you would to a young child you care about, or how a best friend who’s really listening. “Yeah, I’m really scared right now.. ” or “I’m so frustrated!!”
- Thinking about the situation (observation), go into radical self-acceptance, again speaking to yourself with gentleness and kindness. “It’s hard sometimes when X happens…”
- What are you needing? You may wish to check a needs list. Or just consider what’s “driving” this situation for you and what are you longing for. Is it understanding, patience, acceptance, relief.. of some other need?
- You may wish to journal about what’s coming up for you or speak with an empathy buddy about it, as a way to externalize (express/release) your experiences.
I’m curious to hear how it goes if you try these steps… let me know in the comments below, and remember: Love yourself harder! 🙂