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The Solution is Not Self-Help

I should have sent this post out before Valentine’s Day. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. I should be more focused. What’s wrong with me?

Earlier, I passed a neighbor in the grocery store and she looked at me strangely. I immediately went to the first seven things I must have done wrong. Am I wearing pants? Did I not respond to an email? Was I supposed to pick up her daughter? Did I forget her birthday? Is she sick and I didn’t reach out? Did I talk too much last time I saw her? Am I supposed to somewhere else?

I have an inner critic who takes her job really seriously. She has me thinking, I’m selfish. I’m lazy. I’m distracted. Floral, Hawaiian pajamas are not okay to wear to the store.

Turns out, my neighbor didn’t even notice my pajamas. And I didn’t forget her birthday or her daughter. She forgot her glasses at home. She wasn’t looking at me strangely. She was just squinting, because she couldn’t see.

This month, I am learning to be kind to myself. Kristin Neff, a psychologist and researcher out of the University of Texas in Austin says that self-compassion is really no different from compassion for others. When you notice that someone is hurting, like the Olympians who fell during their figure skating routines, your heart responds with care and tenderness. You want to offer kindness to them instead of judging them harshly. Self-compassion suggests that we act the same way towards ourselves when we make mistakes or notice something we don’t like about us.

Too often, we don’t just say, “I did that wrong,” we say, “I’m wrong.” So how do we stop being so self-judgmental?

My friend and I signed up for a self-compassion class with a yoga teacher we both love.

“What did you get out of it?” I asked my friend.

“I don’t know. I spent the whole class thinking, I’m an idiot. I wore jeans to a class in a yoga studio.”

This is not a post about how we have to love ourselves first before we can love another. If that were true, I am not sure there would be any couples in the world. This is about how we can never really relax if we are always trying to fix who we are. The solution is not self-improvement; it is self-compassion.

This month, my goal is not to end the critic’s monologue in my head, because I am not sure that is possible. All I want is to catch her unkind thoughts faster, recover quicker, and not spin out so often.

We can’t make the negative, critical thoughts go away. We can practice First-Aid: apply pressure with both hands to the bleeding places and hold steady. Say, “Ouch.” Say, “Suffering is a human experience.” By thinking about how others are suffering at this same moment, we gain perspective. We step out of self-pity and into our common humanity. Finally, we give ourselves kindness and say, “I’ve got your back.” If we don’t have our own backs, no one else will.

When my friend admitted that she couldn’t stop thinking about how stupid she was to wear jeans, the teacher, Taylor White Moffitt, told the story of a southern woman she knew who would stop when she heard her inner critic and put her hands over her heart. Then she’d say with tender empathy to herself, “Oh, Darling! You’re suffering, that’s all.”

Today I accept that I am a contradictory, confusing creature. I scribble down these words in my journal:

This is who I am: I am lazy and I am disciplined. I am distracted and I am focused. I am a mess and I am inspiring. I am selfish and I am thoughtful. I have a bad temper and I am calm. I am fragile and I am strong. Oh, and I am a person who thinks floral, Hawaiian pajama bottoms are pants. This is who I am.

But even now, my inner critic is saying, “This blog post is very late.” So excuse me a minute while I stop, put my hands over my heart and say, “Oh Darling!”



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photocredits: Roses: LaSara Flick’r, Inner Art Critic: Slimdandy, Flick’r