Don't Beat Yourself Up: How to be Kind to Yourself Instead

If you find yourself stuck, self-criticism may not be a way to motivate yourself. If anything, chastising yourself makes the problem worse. Self-critism can make you feel paralyzed. It's time to try something different: Learn to be kind to yourself. Be self-compassionate.

How many times have you reacted to mistakes and setbacks with shame, disgust or disappointment? How many times have that voice in your head defaulted to self-hatred instead of self-love? Has this approach worked? If so, how well?

If you find yourself stuck, self-criticism may not be a way to motivate yourself. When you chastise yourself, it makes the problem worse. Self-criticism paralyzes you. 

It's time to try something different: Learn to be kind to yourself. Be self-compassionate.

What does self-compassion mean? 

When you're self-compassionate, you take the love and kindness you reserve for friends and family members and use it on yourself.

You know you're self-compassionate when: You realize it's okay not to be perfect. You know mistakes happen. These mistakes will make you want to cry, scream and quit. Instead of succumbing to discomfort and fear, you pick yourself up and give yourself a hug. You remind yourself that you are human. When we heal, we become stronger.

Using the self-kindness approach, you see yourself more accurately and grow accordingly. You’re not building yourself up by pretending; nor are you tearing yourself down. You’re acknowledging your humanity. You pick yourself up, adjust and do it again, only better.

Self-compassion is not about feeling sorry for yourself or for letting yourself off the hook. In fact, people who are more self-compassionate are more motivated to improve themselves. 

At the same, self-compassion does not artificially boost your on the wobbly standards of appraisal or perfection. 

What is the point of self-compassion?

Ask yourself this: Has tearing yourself apart every helped you? And when it did help, how it did it make you feel? 

Yes, sometimes self-abuse works (this happens in cases where someone else is pushing you to pursue something, for example). But when you want to pursue a goal, self-judgment may prevent you from to starting and finishing. You become more likely to procrastinate and over-think rather than do. 

When you learn to be kind to yourself, you:

  • Boost resilience
  • Feel less alone.
  • Lessen rumination.
  • Increase motivation.
  • Promote body confidence.
  • Increase healthy behaviors.
  • Prevent the comparison trap.
  • Improve overall life satisfaction.
  • Reduce the negative influences of anxiety, depression and chronic stress.

Self-Compassion Quotes

Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.
— Louise L. Hay
Self-compassion is like a muscle. The more we practice flexing it, especially when life doesn’t go exactly according to plan (a frequent scenario for most of us), the stronger and more resilient our compassion muscle becomes.
— Sharon Salzberg

How to Have Self-Compassion.

Like everything, no one-size-fits-all solution exists. Test different self-compassion practices. Make sure it involves one or more of these three factors: kindness, shared humanity and mindfulness.

Be nice. 

Instead of saying, "I suck and never do anything right". "If I don’t do this, I’m going to die or humiliate myself and everyone close to me". Talk to yourself as you would a child. Don't hurl insults at yourself. Say: "I made a mistake, but I'm learning." "I will be okay no matter what happens. If anything, this experience will make me stronger". "Yes, I made mistake. I'm not that mistake. "

Shared humanity. 

Self-flagellation breaks and isolates. An anecdote to this is to remember: You’re not perfect. And neither is anyone else. 

In the moment, you may feel you’re the only one who seems to consistently fail. Or you may feel broken. Most people have felt this way before. 

To feel less isolated, join a support group or a forum. 

Be mindful. 

Mindfulness means being present. The past and future drift away. The only thing left is the moment. 

If you are angry, uncomfortable or disappointed, take a moment, name the pain, and allow it. This transforms you into an observer. Watch the pain as it rises and falls. 

This is why self-criticism backfires. Beating yourself up invites more pain. When you allow yourself to feel the pain, you realize that--like everything else--the discomfort is temporary. 

Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.
— Thích Nhat Hanh

Some react to self-compassion with more self-hatred. The key: Forgive yourself. Treat yourself with respect. Don’t use setbacks as an opportunity for self-hatred. Eventually, you will overcome the self-judgment habit and learn how to be more kind to yourself.

Want to learn more about how to have self-compassion? 

On her site, Dr. Kristen Neff shares eight self-compassion exercises. She also shares a quiz that helps you discover how self-compassionate you are.

Important note: Self-criticism can lead to depression. It may also be a sign of current depression. If you have problems shifting your thoughts, get help from a mental health care practitioner.