Here in the San Ramon Valley, the pressure to measure up to perfection is pretty real. However, as English poet Alexander Pope so famously coined, "To err is human." Or if you are looking for a more modern example, in the words of Hannah Montana, "Nobody's perfect // you live and you learn it." Because let's face it no matter the amount of pressure that society or we place on ourselves, we are human and will fall short of perfection.
In my Danville therapy practice I work a lot with adolescents, and a lot of these adolescents are struggling with depression and anxiety rooted in feelings of inadequacy. I think the trap that I (and I would imagine other people who care for these teens) fall into is trying to convince them that they are wrong. Which in fact may be true (I strongly disagree with my adolescents' assertion that they are inadequate and can often see vast potential, strengths and assets), but I find that just trying to convince them that they are wrong backfires on me. And just to be clear, inadequacy is not limited to teens; I'll be the first to tell you that I've experienced my fair share of feelings of inadequacy in my adult years.
Enter in self-compassion. Self-compassion not about convincing someone else (or yourself) that the negative thoughts are wrong and that they should turn them into positive thoughts. It's about giving them (and ourselves) the ability to acknowledge our humanness and not let the negative thoughts drive us down a self-deprecating cycle that paralyzes us. Dr Kristin Neff, a leader in self-compassion research defines self-compassionate response to negative thoughts/circumstances as:
- Treating yourself kindly
- Recognizing your struggles as part of the human experience
- Holding onto your thoughts and feelings in a mindful manner, meaning simply observe the thought or feeling without making judgments, trying to fight it/distract from them, or getting swept away by them
So, for example if someone were experiencing thoughts/feelings of inadequacy because they said the wrong thing at school or work, self compassion would include recognizing the thought and feeling, "I feel depressed because I said the wrong thing and made a fool of myself." Then rather than beating yourself up over making a mistake or engaging in some activity that numbs or pushes down the pain, self-compassion would entail reminding yourself that "I am human and while it feels sucky, it is normal and expected to make a mistake; not because I am inadequate or stupid, but because I am a normal human being."
Disclaimer: As I tell my clients, it takes time to practice and cultivate a new skill like mindfulness or self-compassion, especially when you have been practicing self-criticism/beating yourself up for most of your life. So I would advise some self-compassion in giving yourself time to practice and develop self-compassion (haha). In a way, it is like strengthening muscles through weight training: you don't start the first day at the gym being able to set the world record for deadlift.
Resources: A lot of inspiration for this blog post came out of a couple articles I recently read about the different effects of self-esteem vs. self compassion. Check them out here:
*Shylah Blatt MA, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and owner of Whole Family Counseling, located in Danville, CA, serving Danville, San Ramon, Dublin, Pleasanton, Castro Valley, Walnut Creek and surrounding areas. In her Danville counseling practice, Shylah specializes in providing counseling and therapy services for children, teens, families, and adults experiencing issues related to depression, anxiety, stress, life transitions, and disordered eating.