Are you your own best friend?

Photo credit - Annie Spratt via

Photo credit – Annie Spratt via

When your friends are in trouble are you there to listen and support them? Do you do the same thing towards yourself in challenging times? Seriously – do you treat yourself like you would a friend in need?

Take a moment to reflect
How do you treat yourself in times of need? Perhaps you have made a mistake or you are struggling with something. Are you a compassionate friend to yourself?

Often we are tougher on ourselves that we are on others. When things turn bad, we can sometimes become very self-critical, not affording ourselves the same considerations we would propose others should take with themselves. This resonates with me. I often experience this when faced with challenges that don’t turn get resolved in the way I thought they might.

Why is this? Well I am not sure why, but the inner critic enters the conversation. That is an inner voice that says things to you like … “Don’t be such an idiot!” or “Why did this happen to me?” or “You need to do better than that”.

According to Christopher Germer (2017):

When things go wrong in our lives, we tend to become our own worst enemy.

The solution, he suggests is grounded in self-compassion. That is what is required to recover emotionally and get back on your feet.

Failure can be debilitating
When we are used to doing things successfully, failure can be debilitating. Germer (2017) suggests:

When we fail in a big way, we’re likely to become engulfed in shame, and our sense of self is dismantled.

What does this feel like?

  • Unable to think straight.
  • Suspended in time and place, dislocated.
  • Uncertain who we really are.

Shame wipes out the observer needed to be mindful of our situation.

How do you rescue yourself?
You need to do the same things for yourself, as you would for others. Be a best friend. Treat yourself with kindness and support.

According to Germer, research shows that “self-compassion is closely associated with emotional resilience”. This includes the ability to soothe ourselves, recognise our mistakes, learn from them and motivate ourselves to succeed.

Self-compassion is consistently correlated with … measures of emotional well-being, such as optimism, life satisfaction, autonomy, and wisdom, [and] reduced levels of anxiety, depression, stress, and shame.
Germer, 2017

The components of self-compassion

  1. Mindfulness – awareness of the present moment. That means knowing that we are struggling, while it is happening. It is an awareness thing.
  2. Common humanity – recognise our common humanity, understanding that others would feel the same way in similar situations. We are not the only ones suffering.
  3. Self-kindness – be kind and warm-hearted to ourselves. This takes many forms: a gentle hand, validating how we feel, encouraging self-talk, or a simple act of kindness like drinking a cup of tea or listening to music.

The impact of feeling threatened
When threatened, our nervous system is awash with adrenaline. In this state, self-care and kindness is the last thing we think of. Positive, warm connections in our system releases oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that downregulates the effects of adrenaline. Taking a moment to be mindful, to pause and bring kindness to ourselves can activate our innate caregiving and the calming effect of oxytocin, allowing the mind to clear and give ourselves a chance to take rational steps to resolve issues.

It’s all about mindset
Shifting your mindset from feeling threatened to self-compassion, you will be calmer and more thoughtful. The fly in the ointment here can be other mindsets that we hold. Self-compassion can fly in the face of ambition and a hard-driving attitude. Self-compassion doesn’t imply a lack of ambition or a lack of drive. It is about how you motivate yourself, instead of blame and self-criticism reigning.

A final word from Germer:

It’s a simple reversal of the Golden Rule: Learning to treat ourselves as we naturally treat others in need — with kindness, warmth, and respect.

Does any of this resonate for you? I would love to know.

Germer, Christopher. 2017. To Recover from Failure, Try Some Self-Compassion. Harvard Business Review. 5 January 2017.

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