You’re a good person. So why are you so hard on yourself? By Alison Turner
You’re a loving friend, family member, partner and workmate. You volunteer for community organisations and donate to charities. And yet you barely give yourself a second thought. But don’t you deserve the same compassion you show to others?
“A skill to use to be the healthiest we can be is self-compassion,” says Dr Rick Kausman, director of the Butterfly Foundation (which supports people affected by eating disorders and negative body image), a fellow of the Australian Society for Psychological Medicine and the author of If Not Dieting, Then What?
“Research shows that if we can be kinder to ourselves then we tend to look after ourselves better. We will do things that will help us look after ourselves better rather than punish ourselves or set ourselves targets that are impossible to achieve.”
Don’t know where to begin? We’ve complied a “Be Good to Me” checklist that can help you to show yourself more consideration, compassion and love. The pay-off is a win-win situation: by being kinder to yourself, you’ll ultimately be a happier and healthier person, which benefits everyone!
1 quit the negative talk
Think about the way you talk about yourself sometimes: “I look awful.”
“I’m so fat!” “I’m so stupid!” Would you speak that way about a friend? Of course not. So you should never talk that way about yourself. Trouble is, most of us do.
Aristotle said: “We are what we repeatedly do.” This is the case with negative self-talk. The more you do it, the more you’ll keep doing it. And the more you do it, the more you’ll believe it.
Luckily, the opposite is also true. A recent review of 32 studies published in the Perspectives on Psychological Science, found that positive self-talk helps people to perform better, feel more confident and deal better with stress.
Start putting a kybosh on your inner self-critic by becoming more aware of your negative self-talk – whenever you hear yourself thinking or saying something negative about yourself, acknowledge it but then move on.
Don’t engage with it or let it make you angry or frustrated. And when you’re looking for a boost, repeat a phrase or sing a line of a song that empowers you, motivates you, inspires you or just makes you feel plain awesome.
2 take a nap
In her book Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed: The Ultimate Nap Book, artist SARK explains how taking naps can lead to a new state of being, including more happiness, wealth, love and creativity.
If that’s not being kind to yourself, what is? Even the US National Sleep Foundation admits that napping can offer psychological benefits, saying that a brief nap can be “a pleasant luxury, a mini-vacation. It can provide an easy way to get some relaxation and rejuvenation.”
3 say no to worry
For many of us, too much of every day is spent rushing around, worrying about all the things that need to be done and how the hell we’re going to do it all.
Dzogchen Rinpoche, one of the highest lamas in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, said on a recent visit to Australia that we could all be much happier if we stopped worrying so much. His Eminence says that when we spend too much time fretting about our families, health and business, we lack the clarity to solve those very same problems.
“Worrying about our concerns, particularly at the last minute, without understanding their true causes and conditions or thinking about the consequences of our actions, leaves us confused and unsure what to do,” he says.
“Instead we should use our inner wisdom to plan ahead for these issues so we can face them with confidence and then there is no need to panic.”
4 look in the mirror
Take a good look at yourself. Watch yourself talking, reacting. Make friends with the face in the mirror, and share your thoughts and feelings. If you end up laughing because you feel so silly doing this, all the better: “This is good,” says therapist and shaman practitioner Sandra Ingerman. “One of the causes of toxic thoughts is that we take ourselves too seriously. Bringing humour into our life creates space for lightness and joy to permeate, and this creates healing.”
5 spend time alone
In her book Yoga Off the Mat, Katie Manitsas, founder of Samadhi Yoga in Sydney, says: “Both the Dalai Lama and Yogi Bhajan advise that one of the best ways to keep self-esteem strong is to spend time in your own company each day. This may be in the form of a formal sadhana (conscious spiritual practice) such as meditation, or simply in quiet reflective time spent alone.”
Spending time alone allows you to just stop and breathe. You can escape from the pace and stress of the day and just focus on yourself. It gives you a chance to put things into perspective and – most importantly – to relax.
6 say no to guilt
Too often many of us find ourselves plagued with guilt – feeling that we’re not doing enough for others, that we’re letting others down, that we’re not good enough. But far from making us a better person, all this guilt is making us unwell.
In her book How to Heal Toxic Thoughts, Sandra Ingerman tells us the energy behind guilt is not healthy.
“When you allow yourself to get lost in the energy of guilt, you are essentially kicking yourself,” she says, pointing out that it’s important to act lovingly towards yourself as well as others, “since you, too, are a precious being that should not be harmed”. Nice.
7 say no to anger
Chronic anger and hostility increase your risk of developing heart disease and other chronic health conditions. In contrast, positive emotions have been linked with better health and a longer life. So how do you deal with anger when it comes along, to ensure it’s not making you sick?
In the past, therapists have recommended venting anger by hitting something like a pillow or a punching bag. But psychologist Dr Guy Winch, author of Emotional First Aid, disagrees.
“Venting our anger by assaulting benign objects only serves to reinforce our aggressive urges in response to anger,” he says. “The most effective strategy for regulating emotions such as anger involves reframing the event in our minds so that we change its meaning to one that is less infuriating.”
Dr Winch recommends reframing a situation or person that makes you angry by following these steps:
- Find the positive intention;
- Identify opportunities;
- Embrace the learning moment; and
- View the offending person as needing help (spiritual or otherwise).
8 connect with nature
A study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that connecting with nature not only makes you feel better – from increasing happiness and physical health to lowering stress – it actually makes you a better person. The study revealed that people who are regularly exposed to nature value community and close relationships more and are more generous with money. The reason? The study authors believe that nature helps to connect people to their authentic selves. “Nature in a way strips away the artifices of society that alienate us from one another,” says study co-author Dr Andrew Przybylski.
9 don’t beat yourself up
It’s okay to be where you are right now, whatever you’re doing. Even if you’re lying in front of the fridge with your head half buried in a chocolate cake. Instead of beating yourself up for what you’re doing, recognise the reasons behind it (for instance, you overeat to cope with stress) and forgive yourself for it. No-one else is perfect, and nor are you – so learn to love yourself right now, just as you are.
“Only when we believe that we are enough will we have the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect,” says Dr Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, US, who has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame. “When we don’t accept ourselves, we shape-shift, turn into chameleons and always hustle for the worthiness we already possess.”
A study from the University of California, Berkeley, US, found that taking an accepting approach to personal failure may make people more motivated to improve themselves. This means, by being kind to yourself in situations like this, you’ll be less likely to repeat the negative or unwanted behaviour again in the future.
10 have a techno-free day
Happiness expert Professor Paul Dolan from the London School of Economics, UK, says that when we are constantly distracted by smart phones, tablets and computers, we’re having our attention drawn away from the things that matter most – our family, our friends and the right here, right now we live in. He believes that unless we change our behaviour, we could suffer mental illness as a result.
Choose a day when you don’t have to work or be anywhere. Turn off your mobile phone, and resist the urge to tell everyone on Facebook that you’ve done so by shutting down your computer. Switch off the television, the radio and put away any newspapers, magazines or other casual distractions.
Spend the day in peace, pottering around your garden, catching up on your reading, having a conversation with your family, meeting up with a friend, baking a cake for a neighbour or just quietly meditating. At the end of the day, spend a minute or two taking note of how calm and unrushed you feel. You’ll realise that it’s not essential to be switched on and connected to everything and everyone all the time.
11 lose the green-eyed monster
Feeling envious or jealous of somebody for what you perceive they have and you don’t is just one more form of negative self-talk.
“Envy can become toxic in you and in the world,” says Ingerman. “When we move into strong feelings of jealousy and envy, we are coming from a place of lack, from the experience that our cup is half empty.”
Ingerman points out that it’s pointless to negatively compare yourself with others. “Like diamonds, we all manifest different facets of beauty and brilliance in the world,” she says.
“I have never seen a group of people comparing the beauty of the stars in the night sky. Nor have
I heard people comparing the beauty of flowers. We might feel drawn to one flower over another, but we honour all flowers for the beauty they possess. We must treat one another – and ourselves – the same way.”
12 be grateful
When things are going well, gratitude helps us to celebrate the goodness in our lives. But it’s when things are going badly that gratitude is the most important.
“In the face of demoralisation, gratitude has the power to energise,” says Dr Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology and a leading scientific expert on gratitude. “In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times.”
But no one is expecting you to feel grateful for something bad happening to you. Rather, as Dr Emmons points out, there is a difference to feeling grateful and being grateful.
“Being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives,” he says. “When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances.”
13 savour the little things
Big, happy occasions like holidays and weddings are, of course, something to treasure. But it’s the little, everyday things that really bring true happiness. Taking the time to be aware of small moments – a cup of tea in the garden, a child’s laughter, a sleepy kitten – fills your life with meaning and pleasure, as you consciously enjoy an experience as it unfolds.