2020 was a year fraught with uncertainty, isolation, and global upheaval. If I had a penny for every time I heard the word “unprecedented” on the news this past year…well, you know how the saying goes. Then, on December 31st, 2020 finally came to a close. As with the beginning of any year, people began to formulate their resolutions for 2021 (lose 10 pounds, read more books, have more sex with my partner…etc.). But around February, people begin to abandon their New Year’s resolutions and migrate back towards their comfort zone, carrying with them the burden of self-judgment because, yet again, they did not reach their goals.
Similar to New Year’s resolutions, I often hear clients express a desire to change something about themselves and come to therapy to be “fixed.” This notion sets people up for failure and feeds the voice that says, “I am not enough as I am” or “I will love myself when x, y, z… etc.” That voice is the self-critical part of ourselves that holds up one’s self-esteem meter. When a person succeeds, the meter goes up and they feel good about themselves momentarily until they inevitably mess up (because we are flawed human beings) and their self-esteem begins to plummet. This cycle is exhausting because it forces people to reach for unattainable goals and never reach a place of self-acceptance.
But what if I were to tell you that there is a solution to ending the cycle that doesn’t involve reading 100 self-help books and going to the gym five times a week? Well, it’s simple, the practice of self-compassion. I know this may sound like more therapist psychobabble, however, research on practicing self-compassion has demonstrated to be a much more effective way to increase self-love as compared to increasing self-esteem. Dr. Kristin Neff is a lead researcher in the field of self-compassion and has written an article on the 5 myths of self-compassion that can be accessed here.
But what is it? Self-compassion can be defined as the practice of treating yourself with care and understanding in the face of suffering, failure, and inadequacy. To practice self-compassion is to acknowledge that our experiences are human, that we are flawed, and that experiencing all those things is okay. So…what would happen if rather than try to “fix” yourself this year, you resolved to love yourself just a little bit more and accept yourself as you are in this moment, imperfections and all?