by Mina Simhai
The diaper bag was the turning point. I was halfway to my baby boy’s doctor’s appointments when I realized I’d forgotten it. Then came the insults inside my own head: “You are a terrible mom. What kind of mom would leave the house without diapers for her baby? What in the world is wrong with you?”
But that day, for some reason, I stopped and noticed how I was talking to myself. My next thought was, “You would never talk to a friend like this, so why are you doing this to yourself?”
In that moment, I realized that forgetting the diaper bag wasn’t the problem. The real problem was the harsh way I was treating myself.
Fast-forward four years. My kids are out of diapers and I’m still working on being nicer to myself. Along comes Kristin Neff with her book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. Neff breaks self-compassion down into three basic components: self-kindness, mindfulness, and recognition of our common humanity.
Practicing self-kindness means “we stop the constant self-judgment and disparaging internal commentary that most of us have come to see as normal,” Neff writes. “It requires us to understand our foibles and failures instead of condemning them.” We can stop seeing ourselves as a problem to be fixed and start noticing our flaws in a gentle, understanding way.
Self-kindness sounds nice, so why don’t more of us practice it? Maybe because we think forgiving ourselves or stopping the self-criticism is letting ourselves off the hook. After all, if I don’t beat myself up, then I’ll probably forget the diaper bag again and again. But self-kindness and self-compassion are different than making excuses for our behavior (or thoughts). When we practice self-kindness, we still hold ourselves accountable, we still try to do better next time—but we do it by gently encouraging ourselves rather than beating ourselves up.
Through self-kindness, we learn to comfort ourselves, as we would comfort a friend. Most of us know what kindness looks like. We’re kind (most of the time, anyway) to our family, friends, and colleagues. We can learn to treat ourselves kindly, too, if we are aware of our moments of self-criticism.
Changing the way we talk to ourselves requires that we actually notice what we are saying to ourselves and when we get carried away. This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is the clear seeing and nonjudgmental acceptance of what’s occurring in the present moment. Mindfulness allows us to notice the pain caused by our failures, rather than focusing solely on the failures.
My failure was forgetting the diaper bag. But that day was different, because I also noticed the pain I was creating for myself because of my failure. With mindfulness, we can escape our own personal soap opera and see our situation for what it really is (the pediatrician’s office or a fellow parent will surely give me a diaper if I ask). Mindfulness offers us a window through which we can set our sights on self-kindness. Mindfulness helps us make suffering optional, even if failures are inevitable.
Connection, not isolation, is the antidote to self-criticism, Neff writes. What if I had allowed my forgotten diaper bag to remind me of the struggles of parents everywhere? What if it allowed me to feel closer to all those other moms out there, trying their best to raise kind children with clean bottoms? Then I would have realized that the worst possible outcome—diaper rash—was unlikely because I was going somewhere with lots of babies, and such places usually have extra diapers. A mindset of “we’re all in this together” would have saved me from feeling ashamed of being an inadequate parent. I would have realized that my worth as a mom didn’t ride on what I brought with me when I left the house that day, but rather on the way that I strive to show up for my children every day.
Almost four years ago, I realized how much I needed to develop self-compassion. I am still a work in progress. But, this week, when I didn’t have a water bottle for my thirsty son, I was able to simply say, “Oops, let’s make sure we pack one tomorrow.”
That’s what self-compassion can do: let us admit our mistakes, move on, and decide to do better next time. Self-compassion is not automatic for many of us, but it’s worth the work. Remember that old saying, “You get more with honey than you do with vinegar”? That holds true for the way you treat yourself, as well.
Test how self-compassionate you are with Kristin’s online quiz. Then join me for our next virtual book club.
Mark your calendar:
When: Monday, November 7, 2016, at 7:30 pm ET
Conference Call Dial in: 323-476-3997
Conference ID: 218555#
Get International dial-in numbers at //yourconferenceline.com/local/.
Mina Simhai earned her Certificate in Positive Psychology from the Wholebeing Institute, and served as a teaching assistant for CiPP4. She is also a recovering lawyer, yoga teacher and mother. Her latest project is bringing the tools of positive psychology to lawyers and others in the DC area and across the country. Her top strengths are judgment, love of learning, curiosity, love, and appreciation of beauty. Mina is an avid reader and looks forward to launching the WBI Book Club with you.