Are you a compassionate friend? Do you urge your friends to put their mistakes into perspective and to not be so hard on themselves? How about when it comes to yourself?
Imagine that you spent the drive to school arguing with your kid about whether he could go to the middle school dance that afternoon. As you pulled up to school, he yelled out that he hated you and you yelled back that there is no way he is going to that dance.
Do you then spend the rest of the day rehashing the argument and recriminating yourself for losing your cool? Do you label the morning a failure? Yourself a failure? Do you walk through your routine wearing a cloak of shame?
I hope not. But if you do, you are not alone. I talk to many parents who are incredibly hard on themselves. Moms (and sometimes dads) hold themselves to incredibly high standards. Whereas they are able to be patient and empathetic with their friends and colleagues, they have a hard time letting themselves off the hook.
What's the danger psychologically of beating yourself up?
1. When you are stuck in a loop self flagellation, you are cycling through your emotions and negativity like a broken record. Your brain has a hard time talking to the prefrontal cortex when your system is amped on guilt. It is going to be much harder for you to access your thinking brain, and without your thinking brain, you are not going to reach for the best next step.
2. You are modeling an uncompromising attitude for your children and teaching them they cannot make mistakes without severe judgement. Even if you tell them that mistakes are how a person learns, your actions towards yourself are overriding your message. I have parents tell me, I don't care what grades my kids make as long as they do their best. But then there seems to be an assumption that "best" means perfect.
The absolute guru of self-compassion is researcher Kristin Neff. If self compassion is something you struggle with, I recommend her website self-compassion.org.
How do you practice self-compassion?
I'm no expert on self-compassion, but like anyone else, I have had lots of reasons to practice self-compassion. Here are some of the ways I do that. Again, I'm no expert, but these steps do work for me. Mostly. (This stuff is hard!)
1. Breathe deeply.
2. Apologize for the mistake or the harm caused and make amends where possible.
3. Look to see if there is a reason I messed up so that I can try to avoid creating the same circumstances again.
4. See myself as a work in progress. Develop a growth mindset.
5. Recognize there are some circumstances I am not responsible for.
6. Breathe some more. I try to imagine that with my out breath I am pushing the self-recrimination out of my body down into the earth. I know that if I hang on to it, it is going to sap energy from my efforts to move forward and take positive action.
7. Treat myself with the same open, loving heart I strive to use when I treat others.
I firmly believe that when we practice self-compassion as parents, we help our children become both more accepting of others and more resilient.
Self-compassion is a kind of self-love. When we model it, we make it possible for our children to love themselves.
Good luck with all this. I'd love to hear your stories on my Joyful Parenting Facebook page