The new year is here, and with it come resolutions for self-improvement. Statistically, only about 9% of people ultimately reach their goals. Many of these individuals have something in common that helps them maintain their motivation. Many have chosen to give themselves one of the best gifts, an absolutely worthwhile resolution—the gift of self-compassion.
What do we mean by self-compassion? Simply put, self-compassion is including ourselves in the circle of kindness and being a good friend to ourselves. However, this is not our default, and often we are our worst critics. This happens in all areas of life but is especially important when it comes to self-evaluation of our parenting.
Culturally, being self-compassionate is often viewed as weak, and there is a fear that it makes us lazy or complacent or we have failed in some way. After all, why would we change if we are accepting ourselves as we are? Not only that, but our brains also perceive failure as dangerous to survival and utilize criticism and negative self-talk as a means of protection.
Interestingly, there is a large body of research that indicates that our cultural wisdom on this topic is completely backward! Studies show that self-compassionate people experience more positive, or what we prefer to label “comfortable,” emotions than self-critical individuals. When people treat themselves kindly instead of critically, they are more likely to believe that they can make changes and re-engage their goals as opposed to increasing stress and guilt, resulting in rumination around missing the mark. Researchers theorize that self-compassion helps us be more mindful of our thoughts and emotions instead of avoiding or exaggerating them. From this place of kindness, we can sit with less comfortable emotions and remain regulated during difficult experiences.
For those caring for children with extensive trauma and special needs, every ounce of physical and emotional energy may be consumed by the parenting role. How can we recharge? Negative self-talk provides no gifts, despite the intention of teaching ourselves a lesson. Unfortunately, when our inner voice is unkind, we ultimately lead ourselves to burnout, which is just the opposite of what we had hoped for.
When we struggle through a hard time, if we are lucky enough, we find an empathic friend who offers words of encouragement. And when our kids have had a tough day, we fill this role for them. We help them explore and honor difficulty, allowing for growth. Most of us have come to understand that gentle and empathic redirection is much more productive than harsh criticism when helping our kids with their challenges. We need to do some reparenting for ourselves in this area. This can be especially challenging for those who experienced abuse or neglect as children.
Parenting can be downright painful. Amid difficulty, we can turn our caring selves inward. In kindness to ourselves, we can honor our pain and recognize the suffering that is part of all human existence. This may involve giving gentle self-touch, such as placing a hand on the heart and stating, “This is tough. May I be kind to myself” or “Other people have felt this way too.” In attending to ourselves when struggles come, we are present in the moment and fill ourselves with gentleness and warmth. Even nonverbally, this peaceful inner state is “caught” by those around us, a phenomenon referred to as empathetic resonance. Sometimes we may tell ourselves that we don’t deserve this kind of treatment, but that is simply untrue. Each of us is equally deserving of kindness and dignity, even on our bad days.
By giving ourselves the gift of mindfulness, recognizing our common humanity, and extending self-compassion, we give ourselves the gift of a loving presence. We are worth receiving this gift from ourselves. With our own cup filled, we can also give to others. In doing so, we remain motivated for change and growth.
May your new year be filled with kindness and self-compassion. Resolve to make it so!