Tool 8: Treat Yourself Kindly

Are you too hard on yourself?

Being pregnant and looking after her unborn child is one of the most important things in the world to Linda. Because she cared so much, she often beat herself up and criticized herself (“I should eat better”, “I am not exercising enough”, “I should wash my hands more”).

One day, she had a startling insight as she watched her nephew being coached in soccer. The coach berated him for missing a pass. Her nephew stood dejected, tears in his eyes, and then announced later that he didn’t want to play anymore. As she was talking to her sister, her nephew’s mother, about the coach’s unhelpful approach to teaching a child, she realized, “This is what I am doing to myself!” Perhaps being kinder to herself might actually help her be the kind of mother she wanted to be.

Can you identify with Linda? Do you also talk to yourself like the merciless coach whenever you don’t meet your own expectations? How is this approach working out for you?

Adjust your expectations

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider whether being hard on yourself has really been helpful to you.
Here are some questions that might shed some light.

Question Yes No

Are your expectations so high that they are either very hard to meet or unachievable?

  • I should NEVER feel frustrated with my baby.

Are your expectations in terms of black and white?

  • A job is not well done if I did not devote all my effort into doing it.
  • My diet is ruined because I ate a piece of cheesecake yesterday.

Are your expectations inflexible?

  • I can't leave the house until the bed is made just so.

Are you intolerant of failures to meet your expectations?

  • I'm weak and useless for feeling overwhelmed and anxious about motherhood.

Do you focus on what you haven't accomplished rather than on what you have accomplished?

  • So what if I didn't find time to cook tonight? I didn't cook the night before, and we ordered pizza.

In our experience, people who answered “yes” to most of these questions feel “bullied” by their high expectations. They are also more likely to feel irritable, anxious, depressed, and dissatisfied even after working very hard to meet their expectations. Sometimes they got so stressed about meeting their expectations that they ended up procrastinating or avoiding the tasks all together. Does this sound familiar?

 

If you found that being hard on yourself has cost you and would like to be more self-nurturing, these tips can help you on the path to greater self-compassion:

  1. Turn down the volume of that self-critical voice.
  2. Notice your successes.
  3. Act as if you are worth it.