“What An Idiot”: A Lesson in Self-Compassion

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If you have ever blown it or failed at an important task, you have likely felt the keen sting of self-disappointment or even self-loathing.  At these moments, when you feel the lowest, have you noticed how you treat yourself?  Do you respond with self-compassion or self-flagellation?  If you’re like me (and like most of my clients and friends), you might find yourself re-living the scene of failure over and over, or looking in the mirror and quoting Hermione Granger from Harry Potter saying, “What an idiot.” (Insert condescending tone and look of disgust.)

The odd bit is, most of us would never do or say these things to a friend or a loved one when they fail.  We generally greet them with love and compassion and reassurance.  We need to offer ourselves that same grace, if we want to become more resilient (the ability to bend without breaking), and in order to flourish in our lives (the ability to grow and adapt over time despite adversity, according to the work of Dr. Martin Seligman).

If you want to live a brave life, one thing is for sure: you are going to faceplant at some point.  How you treat yourself in that moment matters. For tips on how to navigate failure without copious amounts of booze or self-flogging, read on…

Kristen Neff, self-compassion researcher, describes the practice of self-compassion as a radically new way of relating to ourselves. Her research shows that the more we practice being kind with ourselves, the more we’ll increase the habit of self-compassion.

She offers the following tips on her website, www.self-compassion.org 

  • Mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace yourself with kindness and care in response.
  • Remember that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. (In other words, you aren’t the only person faceplanting; it’s happening all the time to everyone)
  • Practice acts of self-love by asking yourself, “What do I need right now?” It might be some time to recover, a hot cup of tea, or a walk to clear your head.  For me, it’s asking for a loving embrace from my husband that silently says, “You blew it, and I’ve been there too, and I love you.”
  • Imagine it was your child or a friend who made the mistake or failed. What would you say to them? How would you treat them? I often ask my clients, “If you wouldn’t say it to your daughter, why would you say it to yourself?”

It’s also good practice to notice if you are feeling guilt or shame. Shame is when you make your actions equate to being a bad person, whereas guilt is when you equate your actions with doing a bad thing.  Guilt is healthy and helps you learn and grow from your mistakes. Shame can be destructive to your life.  If you are feeling shame, sharing your story with someone who has earned the right to hear it and who can empathize with you can be deeply healing.  For more on this, read Brené Brown’s gripping book, Daring Greatly, or call on one of our pLink Certified Daring Way™ Facilitators to take you through the Daring Way™ Process in 1:1 coaching.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day and the month of LOVE, turn some of that love to yourself.  Our world has never needed compassion more than it does now. How will you put it out into the world if you aren’t able to offer it to yourself? #sharethelove

If you know someone who needs to hear this message, please forward it, or share it on social media. You can find all of our positive pearls by searching #thinkplink.

Alexis Robin

Alexis Robin is the COO of pLink Leadership. A sought-after speaker on the topics of brave leadership, team synergy, and positive communication, Alexis works globally, coaching leaders at the individual, team, and organizational level. She lives in Truckee, CA, with her husband and teenaged twins.