Are You Compassionate With Yourself?
A recent promise I made was to be more compassionate with myself. As you age well, self-compassion is an excellent tool for managing the inevitable changes that occur.
Researcher and author, Dr. Kristen Neff, describes it this way:
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, whoever said we were supposed to be perfect.
The three parts of this attitude, which people adopt toward their own failure and suffering, are:
1. Self-compassion instead of self-judgment - People who are kind to themselves are tolerant and loving when faced with pain or failure. Self-judging people are harsh and intolerant toward themselves.
2. Common humanity instead of isolation - Common humanity is a perspective that views our own failings and feelings of inadequacy as part of the human condition shared by nearly everyone. By contrast, people who isolate tend to feel alone in their failure.
3. Emotional regulation instead of over-identification - People who regulate their emotions take a balanced view and keep their feelings in perspective. They neither ignore nor ruminate on elements of their lives that they dislike. By contrast, over-identified people tend to obsess and fixate on failure and view it as evidence of personal inadequacy.
I had become self-critical, saw myself as a failure, and felt inadequate.
You can view a short version of the self-compassion test Dr. Neff developed here. After taking the test, I looked at the Score Interpretations section to determine my score but didn’t submit the findings.
According to the American Psychological Association,
Unfortunately, the aging process is not always so idyllic. Late-life events such as chronic and debilitating medical disorders, loss of friends and loved ones, and the inability to participate in once-cherished activities can take a heavy toll on an aging person’s emotional well-being.
Older adults may also sense a loss of control over their life due to failing eyesight, hearing loss, and other physical changes, as well as external pressures such as limited financial resources. These and other issues often lead to negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety, loneliness, and lowered self-esteem, which lead to social withdrawal and apathy.
The time after retirement is known as “The Golden Years,” but Dr. Seuss sees it another way:
The Mayo Clinic offers a more realistic picture in the article, Aging: What to Expect. Take a look. Then you can better prepare for what may be ahead.
Ailments, hindrances, and inconveniences can be frustrating, irritating, and depressing. Older adults get angry and frustrated with their bodies and themselves for not doing what they used to. That’s where self-compassion comes in.
This has been a year of transition for me, involving changes in every area of my life. There been natural losses due to aging and also anxiety and stress caused by losing my husband, starting a new life, and making necessary adjustments. I became intolerant of my mistakes, doubted my decisions, and focused on what was wrong rather than appreciating all mu accomplishments.
The day I made that promise was a turning point. I made a mistake – an easily fixable one. No matter, my inner critic - the inner voice that judges, criticizes, and demeans a person whether or not self-criticism is objectively justified - went ballistic, ranting and raving for several minutes. This was not – is not - healthy or acceptable. It needed to change.
The words from an article written by Matt Frazier, the well-known psychic medium, came to mind as a starting place in my quest to be more compassionate with myself.
Frazier explained that “healing begins with acceptance, forgiveness, and letting go.” He suggests that rather than thinking about the traditional meaning of the words, think about how they can help you feel better and allow yourself to live a happier life.
In psychology, acceptance means actively embracing a painful experience. The idea is not to grudgingly tolerate negative experiences but to embrace them fully and without defense. I needed to accept what is true now: inconveniences such as ringing in my ears, not seeing as well because of eye surgery, daily aches and pains, less energy, and the biggest one - being on my own.
Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward people who have harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
Just as important as defining what forgiveness is, though, is understanding what forgiveness is not. Experts who study or teach forgiveness suggest that when you forgive, you do not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offense.
Fred Luskin, Director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, explains forgiveness this way.
I had to forgive myself for making mistakes, letting fear get in the way, and not being the person I wanted to be.
Health Line provides a list of ways to foster that forgiveness.
These are a few of my favorites.
Focus on my emotions - recognize and accept them. They do pass.
Think of the mistake as a learning experience and identify the lesson to be learned.
Put the mistake on hold by mentally putting thoughts and feelings about it in a container and telling myself that it will stay there unless it is necessary to revisit it.
Have a conversation with my inner critic. One way is through journaling which helps me understand my inner critic’s concerns.
Notice when I am being self-critical and label the behavior.
Listen to the negative voice inside. Sometimes it’s challenging to recognize thoughts that are getting in the way of forgiveness. A good practice is to write what the critical, irrational inner voice is saying on a piece of paper and then write a self-compassionate, rational response on the other side.
This is a challenge for me.
The author Farah Ayaad described letting go beautifully in the Thought Catalog. She “spoke” to me in many ways, and I wanted to share a few of her thoughts.
Letting go is complex because it’s many things at once. You want to let go, but you can’t, and you can let go, but you don’t want to. Letting go of someone who died means accepting that they are never coming back.
It means letting go of the person you think you should be. It means being the person you are on the inside, the one you’ve been this whole time.
Letting go means challenging yourself. It means doing things you’re not comfortable with. It means choosing to go out when you feel like dying. Letting go means doing things differently and doing different things. It means asking for help. It means saying “no” or “I can’t.”
It means being kind when you’re hurt. It means being understanding when you can’t see the point. It means having faith when your mind is clouded with doubt, and it means being loving when your heart is on fire. It means dancing when you can’t hear the music, and it means singing even if you don’t understand the lyrics. Letting go means going with the flow but still painting your own reality.
Her words provided a path forward for me. I need to let go of my husband even though I really don’t want to - he and the life we shared won’t return. I also need to let go of the fears and doubts that imprison me.
A key to aging well is “. . . creating my own place in the world. Doing the things I want, that get me going, and that give me 100 million reasons to live.” It means letting go of who I should be and becoming the person I want to be.
Having accepted that my body is aging and unable to do everything it used to, having forgiven myself for making mistakes and not being perfect, having the intention to let go and create my own place in the world, it seems there is one more step. That step has to do with moving on – focusing on what can be done.
There will always be frustrations, things will never go perfectly, and I am human - so, maybe it’s time to shut down the inner critic and find my inner coach, someone who will be gentle and kind to the person I am trying to become. Let Emmet the Otter from Sesame Street explain the difference.
In summary, to age well, we must be compassionate with ourselves, accept our current reality, forgive ourselves for things we can no longer do, and let go of what was. Then we can focus on what we can do and enjoy life.