“Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.” ― Dr. Christopher Germer, self-compassion expert
“You are a worthless piece of crap; you can’t do anything right you loser,” said the Maggot inside the head of the serial killer. The killer kills because he is trying to silence the Maggot, his inner critic.
This fictional account of the Maggot’s voice (which I read in a detective story a few days ago) sounded very like the description a suffering, depressed, anxious friend recounted recently. “I came out of the womb with a critical voice hurling accusations and putdowns at me.”
And… the voice’s words sounded different but the intent seemed similarly nasty when my husband John dropped a pumpkin pie upside down a few days ago. “You’re just an old fart who is messing up everything and it’s only going to get worse,” the voice said.
Exactly where this nasty, critical interior voice comes from has been debated. What isn’t so debated is that we all have heard it – that inner critic beating us up. It can hurt us, cripple us, make us suffer.
Part of my training in coaching was around how to deal with this inner critic. I can’t say that the training was effective in the least. We were taught to experiment with yelling it down. Often with swear words.
These days, thanks to the research of self-compassion researchers and people who work with what’s called internal family systems, we have better tools. The idea in general is to be kinder to ourselves and… to all our interior parts including our inner critic. Treat ourselves as we would a good friend.
It helps to have people around us who model treating our failures with kindness. For example, on the same day that John dropped the pumpkin pie, he had agreed to play (only a few minutes later) a short piece of music on the organ in a public setting.
This was a stretch for John. Something he had never done before. He barely knows how to play a bit of piano.
He wanted to back out, but decided to go through with it, but couldn’t find the right notes. He tried again, but no. And then again. Same mistakes. Then he looked up. Out at the people. They were smiling. Kind smiles. Good-for-you-we-love-you-no-matter-what sorts of smiles. The inner critical voices stopped. He felt warmth toward himself.
That’s the antidote. Warmth toward ourselves...that is what lowers the voice of the Maggot. In fact, all that warmth pretty much changes the whole way we think about the Maggot. No more demonizing, “may you rot in hell” cursing at the voice.
Instead, we acknowledge that we’re having a difficult time. That dropping the pumpkin pie stressed us. We understand. We give ourselves some grace to be a human being. An imperfect human being who sometimes makes mistakes and has opportunities to grow.
Now coach-like people in the past have groaned at the “soft” approach until they see the results. People who are more skilled at self-compassion are not letting themselves off the hook. In fact they are less defensive and more open to learning. They end up performing better and being healthier and happier and having an altogether good life.
We can send ourselves good wishes as a proactive measure…before things go wrong. Every night lately I have been sending this message to myself “May you be happy, may you be healthy. May you use your suffering to become stronger. May you accept that you are human.”
And I can tell you with a hundred percent certainty, it’s kept me from being a serial killer. Life can be hard. So can being a human. Learning ways to kindly deal with ourselves is better for us AND for those around us as well.
How might we journey together to the Good Life by learning how to be kind to ourselves?