“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real, too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win.” —Stephen King
February, known as the month of love, has become a commercial bonanza with $20 billion spent on Valentine’s Day cards and candy for loved ones in 2019. But what about you? While February is a time to remember the importance of love and compassion toward others, could it also be a time to include yourself? Or is that a sign of narcissism?
We’ve been taught that self-love is selfish, and self-sacrifice is a virtue. If you’re like people who kick themselves around for their slip-ups and shortcomings, you probably have a deep belief that negative treatment is more noble, can help you perform better, and helps you gain social approval. Or perhaps you worry that giving yourself too much kind leeway might turn you into a total slacker.
Of course, modern psychology says nothing could be farther from the truth. It is the other way around. It is selfish not to love yourself, and self-judgment builds barriers to success and happiness.
Only as you cultivate the right attitude toward yourself will you have the right attitude toward helping others. Negative self-judgments actually reduce happiness, increase stress, and limit your accomplishments, whereas self-compassion—the loving-kindness, supportive treatment you give to yourself during challenges, personal shortcomings, and career setbacks—is a more powerful stress-resilient tool.
Stop Kicking Yourself Around
Chances are, you have a kick-butt voice inside that bludgeons you with criticism and tells you how worthless, selfish, dumb, or bad you are. It never rests and snatches more airplay from the inner voice that tells you how great you really are. You wouldn’t dream of treating a loved one the way you treat yourself: calling yourself names, pelting yourself for the smallest human slip-ups, disbelieving in yourself enough to give up on your goals.
When you’re feeling sad, in pain, or grieving, harsh words such as, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” or “There are people worse off than you,” or “Get a grip!” can actually worsen your distress. But talking yourself off the ledge with a compassionate voice in a calm, comforting tone (such as “You can do it,” or “This is tough, but stay calm; we’ve got this”) helps you cope as if you’re applying salve to a wound.
You can’t help forming judgments; that’s how you make sense of the world. In its own ironic way, your judgment tries to help you weather life’s challenges with its kick-butt treatment. Much like the hard-ass drill sergeant who doesn’t want to see a soldier’s head blown off in combat, your judge pumps up the volume when you stumble so you don’t fall short of your goals. Unfortunately, though, it has the opposite effect.
The good news: You don’t have to let self-judgment hold you back. You can cultivate more self-compassion, stop happiness barriers cold in their tracks, and amp up your good feelings.
After you have a setback, self-condemnation often barges in. But the real happiness blocker is the condemnation, not the setback. When you remove the second layer of condemnation and substitute compassion, you can see the real barrier more clearly and feel more at ease dealing with it.
That’s why it is important to be gentle and supportive of yourself. So start wanting only the best for yourself in everything you do and be willing to catch yourself when you fall, just like you would for a best friend.
Hard Evidence for Self-Compassion
Studies show when you substitute self-compassion for self-judgment, you foster positive change in just about anything you do. Researchers examined self-compassion in the laboratory and found that when you’re hard on yourself, you’re more prone to anxiety and depression, and it is more difficult to bounce back after a setback. But when you replace negative judgments with self-compassion, you recover more quickly.
If you don’t have self-compassion, no worries; you can develop it. After an eight-week program of mindfulness-based stress reduction (composed of yoga, meditation, and relaxation exercises) in one study, 90 percent of participants increased their level of self-compassion.
Talk Yourself off the Ledge
Coming down hard on yourself in a crisis, after a failure, or in the aftermath of stressors such as a job loss, divorce, or diagnosis of a serious illness reduces your chances of rebounding. Conversely, empathy for yourself after a letdown motivates you to get back in the saddle. So try substituting loving-kindness and self-compassion for self-judgment and talk yourself off the ledge instead of allowing your judgment to encourage you to jump.
Throw yourself a thumbs-up every time you finish a project, reach a successful milestone, or accomplish a goal at work. Self-soothing pep talks and supportive words are beneficial in high-pressured situations such as job interviews, performing in front of your peers, competing in a sports event, testifying in a court case, and so on. So whether you’re dealing with a big crisis or small hassles, a kind, nurturing voice spares you a lot of stress, calms you down, and allows you to enjoy a fuller, happier life.
Amp up Your Self-Kindness Needle
Watch how often you berate yourself, call yourself names, or shame yourself. Stand up to impossible standards and harsh judgments instead of attacking yourself. Forgive yourself for your shortcomings and see them for what they are: habits, old behavior patterns, or just plain mistakes that all of us make.
When you’re more loving to yourself and accept your limitations with compassion, you cut your stress in half and double happiness and success. Then you’re dealing only with the stressful experience, not the added negative feelings from self-judgment. When your inner judge overshadows you, amp up your compassionate side and let it airlift you to untold heights of happiness and success.
A recent eMediHealth survey found that 11 percent of the participants were pleased with the idea of being their own valentine, and 2 percent were excited about it. And 54.5 percent said they would be OK spending Valentine’s Day alone. So whether you dine out by yourself or with your main squeeze or prepare a special meal solo, be sure to send some of that loving-kindness your way.