I don’t always see being a people pleaser as a problem in my life. I’ve been encouraged to be charismatic and serviceable for the longest time, so this naturally turns into being agreeable (what some may think of as people pleasing). It’s when the people pleasing leads to a perfectionistic mindset that I start experiencing friction.
Reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz taught me that we create standards for perfection because of how strongly we want to be appreciated. I remember how proud my parents would feel when I’d make it to the honor roll in middle school. This positive reinforcement made me believe that having the perfect grades would lead to pleasing them more and thus greater appreciation. Falling short of perfection often led to self-criticism that would follow me for years and become a toxic pattern of beating myself up.
Daydreaming about my realistic ideal self comes easily to me. I can delightfully put myself in the shoes of my most radiant self when I don’t feel particularly radiant. I can picture how confidently she speaks, how successful she is and how joyfully she lives. Practicing this level of empathy for the version of myself that doesn’t know better or that’s a mess is a bumpy process.
What I’ve learned from self-compassion is that being a best friend to myself, in the good times and in the bad times, makes me bounce back with greater strength and speed. I have to look at my situation as a caring outside observer in the bad times and say “I know this feels awful, but I’m not going anywhere. We’re going to get through this.” When the good times come I’m also a best friend to myself by saying things like “You did awesome after thinking you couldn’t get it done! I’m pumped about how far you’ve come and how far you can go.”
We’re all capable of developing the skill of self-compassion if we’re willing to let go of the voice that’s no longer serving us and if we’re willing to jump over the awkwardness that’s normal at the beginning of being more self-compassionate. If you’re tired of listening to the inner critic that’s making you feel stuck and discouraged, here are 3 steps you can put into practice to develop self-compassion and step over self-criticism.
1. Label the voice of self-criticism. Identifying what’s not constructive can help us make better decisions. If a stranger is following you around and you have no idea what they are up to, you’d likely feel agitated and confused. However, the story would be different if you could call the person that is following you around by name and if you knew what they’re capable of. When I make a mistake in whatever circumstance and I start to hear unhelpful comments in my mind, I find some reassurance in knowing that’s the inner critic and I don't have to believe what she says. I hear the inner critic when she’s stressed about not being perfect, but I also let her know that she doesn’t tend to help when I’m trying to grow.
2. Channel the best friend inside of you. Once the inner critic has been identified, I call upon my inner best friend. I created the voice of my inner best friend through a treasured collection of insights I’ve gathered from therapy, words of wisdom from loved ones, transformative books, powerful talks, sermons from my home church and so on. My inner best friend shows up when needed and also helps me turn to God when I put my spirituality in the back burner. She is a work in progress like me, but she’s strong when I lose some of my strength.
3. Let your inner best friend do their job. My inner best friend knows what to say to validate what I’m going through, put things into perspective and encourage me to have faith. To let her do her job, I first find a space where I can meet with her in privacy. It can be weird for someone else to walk in when I’m trying to let my inner best friend talk, and thankfully that has never happened. Then, I tap into my primary love language: physical touch. I put a hand over my chest, caress the inner part of my arm (which is very sensitive and soothing to touch) or give myself a hug. Lastly, I let my inner best friend talk in a slightly formulaic but still human way. She starts by recognizing the gravity of my situation, followed by referencing specific moments when I’ve shown my strengths, and she ends by expressing her unconditional support.
I understand if this concept of having an inner best friend doesn’t really resonate with you, but I hope that you give it a fair chance. The whole point of this is to be self-compassionate and not so self-critical. Self-criticism raises our stress hormone and makes us seek protection from ourselves instead of facing our challenges. Self-compassion has been shown to reduce the fight-or-flight response and makes us show up in the world with more enthusiasm (check out this blog post for more insights on this line of research).
Self-compassion is sometimes more about others than the self. Loving ourselves through self-compassion ripples outward and affects the quality of love we show to others. I agree that it’s easier to be more compassionate to others than to ourselves, but by being more compassionate with ourselves we augment the compassion we extend to others.
Are you up for the challenge of being more self-compassionate? I'd love to hear your take on this.
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Wishing you the best in your journey of discovery,