Being overly critical of yourself is never a good thing, which is why it’s so important to use self-love affirmations every day. As much as we want others to feel safe and nurtured no matter what setbacks they face, we tend to look at our own mishaps and errors in a far harsher way, warns Susan David, Ph.D, author of Emotional Agility.. We punish ourselves instead of showing ourselves the self-compassion that will help us overcome challenges more effectively and increase well-being and happiness.
Indeed, imaging studies conducted at Aston University in the U.K. and elsewhere show that responding to our struggles with unkind, self-critical blows activates areas of the brain associated with defense, threat, punishment, and inhibition. Conversely, the research showed that thinking about our situations in a more self-soothing, understanding way increases activity in brain regions that govern positive emotional responses. And when researchers at York University in Toronto asked people to focus on the worst thing that happened during their days, participants who replaced harsh, unforgiving self-judgments about their role in daily mishaps and disappointments with kinder, self-compassionate thoughts increased their happiness levels, no matter what kind of daily difficulties they’d faced.
Here, find the expert-backed steps that boost self-kindness to help you weather any storm and quickly arrive on the sunny other side.
The blow: Bashing your body. Whether revealing your thighs at your neighbor’s pool party makes you think, “Im a fat blob,” or seeing someone’s flat belly on Facebook invokes an instant, “I’m disgusting” reaction, berating your body image diminishes self-worth, notes Kristin Neff, Ph.D. and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. We’d never judge someone we love on their physical appearance, since we know it would cause them pain. Yet women inflict pain on themselves they’d never put on others by engaging in destructive body-hating thoughts.
The balm: Put your hand here. To thwart body-bullying and its sting, Neff advises placing your hand over your heart and concentrating on the warmth that’s generated there. Warm, gentle touch is one of the key triggers of compassion, so this gesture can invoke a calming response, she explained. She also suggests speaking to the body part you’re criticizing in a kind tone, and thanking your legs for helping you hike through the woods last week, or your stomach for helping you digest nourishing food. In a study Neff published in the journal Mindfulness, women who practiced techniques like these felt more grateful for their bodies and stopped exaggerating their so-called physical flaws.
The blow: Focusing on flubs. The sweeping statements we make to ourselves, such as “I’m an idiot; I’ll never get this right!” when we don’t immediately master something new can trap us in a downward spiral of negativity, David notes. What you’re doing is self-shaming and labeling your entire being as bad, which isn’t fair or true. The reality is we’re all complex beings who are far more than any one action or error.
The balm: Imagine yourself like this. Picture yourself as a child saying things like, “I’m unlovable” or “I’m worthless,” suggests David. Then ask yourself what you’d do if that child shared such harsh self-judgments with you. Giving the adult you the encouraging, supportive advice you’d offer the child you, such as, “You made a mistake; let’s look at what you can do differently next time,” puts your error in a loving perspective, she explains. This helps you move forward more positively and constructively.
The blow: Worrying over weakness. Opting out of doing things we’d love to do because we fear we’ll hold others back robs us of a major happiness opportunity: Research shows that people who engage in a variety of experiences are more likely to retain positive emotions and minimize negative ones than people who have fewer experiences. And as David points out, by avoiding activities that mean a lot to you, you’re actually getting in your own way and denying yourself a chance to experience the collaboration and community that’s crucial to joy and happiness.
The balm: Ask what matters. To defray the fears that are holding you back, ask yourself if the choice you’re making is moving you toward your values or away from them, suggests David. For example, if having fun with your family or supporting a charity is something you value highly, look at your participation in that higher context, she advises. Recognizing that joining in serves a greater goal eases the pressure that you’ll fail in some way and gives you the courage to engage in experiences that fulfill you.
The blow: Over-apologizing Self-deprecating thoughts can become so second nature that we automatically apologize when we’re not at fault. Psychologist Linda Sapadin, Ph.D., author of Master Your Fears explained the problem: While it may seem harmless to say “sorry” to someone you haven’t really wronged, doing so can reinforce internal beliefs that you’re somehow deserving of recrimination or blame.
The balm: Rehearse a new response. Instead of blurting “sorry,” practice using “please” instead. A non-apologetic statement such as, “Would you please take this back? It’s not what I ordered,” or “Could you please look at another date? I’m not free that day,” are polite yet assertive responses that boost self-confidence, says Sapadin. And if you catch yourself slipping up and over-apologizing again, she suggests using a gentle self-correction such as, “What I meant to say was: ‘I can’t make it that day. Is there another date available?'” This serves as valuable practice to help you break the “sorry” habit.