Self-compassion—our ability to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion when we experience suffering—is still a very new subject in the academic world. But that doesn’t mean non-academics haven’t known for years that it might be a better alternative to the harsh self-criticism we’re so used to unleashing on ourselves when things go wrong.
Oats Overnight Subscriber Cindy Rash is one such person. As she grew older and her children left home, she began to notice her tendency to self-criticize. But her realization that self-compassion was the answer didn’t happen at once. She didn’t have anyone to explain the benefits of self-compassion to her and had to work on her own to untangle many behaviors she had learned during her upbringing. “It’s a difficult subject,” she says. “That’s probably why most people don’t think or talk about it.” But that didn’t stop her from realizing its importance in her life, and just how wired she was to be self-critical.
Exploring the Roots of Self-Criticism
Cindy’s journey towards self-compassion began when her children left home for college. “Before that, if there was a time when I was getting down on myself, I would return my focus on them, and think, ‘I can’t set a bad example. I need to set a good example.’ All my energy was going towards raising the kids.” After they left, she found herself with enough time and space to do some proper self-reflection. “I didn’t have anywhere else to put my focus except on myself, on making things right.” She began searching her past for the roots of her tendency to self-criticize.
What most contributed to this tendency was growing up in a culture that overemphasized work. “It was work, work, work,” she explains. “That’s what was instilled in us. It’s all about work and the work you produce. Raising a family and working.” This overemphasis on working, however, led her to turn her attention away from her own well-being and criticize herself when she felt she wasn’t doing enough. “For my generation, the last person that you think about is yourself. If you thought about yourself, that was a very self-absorbed and egotistical thing to do, and was generally frowned upon.”
Field Notes on Self-Compassion
Cindy gradually began exploring what it actually means to be self-compassionate and what it could do for her well-being. After having conversations with her husband, her friends, and herself about the roots of her pain, she managed to uncover a few key aspects of self-compassion that helped her put it into practice.
The first is how our tendency to self-criticize comes from comparison. “I think it starts with comparing yourselves with others. That’s when this whole need to talk to yourself comes in.” According to her, once we start this conversation with ourselves, we have one of two options. “There’s critiquing, and there’s criticizing.” The difference between the two is subtle but important. When we critique, we’re providing constructive advice in a way that’s compassionate and understanding. When we criticize, our main intention is to make the target of our criticism (usually ourselves) feel bad for making a mistake. Compassionately critiquing ourselves is the surer, faster way to self-improvement.
She also noticed self-compassion’s power to help people get through emotional suffering. That doesn’t mean it’ll alleviate pain, she explains, but it will help us process and move past it. “There comes a time when you have to tie your bootstraps and march on,” she says. But marching on is much harder to do when you doubt your ability to do so, which is where self-compassion comes in. Self-compassion means “pushing aside self-doubt, not so much pushing aside the pain.” Believing in ourselves is the key in these moments, and treating ourselves with compassion fuels that belief. Self-criticism, on the other hand, only damages it.
A Generational Divide
Cindy views the new generation as being significantly more self-compassionate and emotionally aware than past generations. Certain aspects of modern culture, like mindfulness and body-positivity, are helping children become more self-compassionate individuals. Still, they’re up against a challenge in the form of social media. “Everyone is always posting only the happy ‘everything-is-wonderful-in-my-life’ type of social media post. That’s where you can easily compare yourself and not get the full picture if you’re not careful.” She encourages younger generations to be wary of the potentially harmful effects of social media and to continue leaning into the self-improvement trends that are helping people become more emotionally healthy and aware.
Feeding Ourselves With Grace
At Oats Overnight, we invite you to come to the table just as you are with your own vision for who you’d like to become. We’re on the same journey, seeking to live mindfully and self-compassionately because we believe that’s the foundation for personal growth. We invite you to join our community of support, and we’d love to fuel your daily goals through a premium breakfast.