So if you’ve been watching the news lately, Biebs’ arrest and potential deportation is a recurring story. If you don’t watch the news, you’ve likely seen the tweets or posts, or maybe you saw Jay and Conan beaking him hard. This means he’s not just on Canadian news! Is it weird there’s a an initial sense of excitement before I realize why it’s newsworthy and the shame kicks in (2010 riots anyone)? Our country makes news other than maple syrup heists!!!
Now, I haven’t had a conversation with Justin. He didn’t come into my office asking for therapy, although Justin, if you’re reading this, the offer is there. Still, we might be able to make some connections between his DRAG RACING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL, MARIJUANA, AND PRESCRIPTION DRUGS (facepalm) in the context of his freedom, money, and encouragement to do anything he wants, never having boundaries set or being told he’s done wrong (I’m making some assumptions here, but humor me for the purpose of my point).
Then, a few days later, several people on FB shared this article about the dangers of telling a child they’re “special” and “perfect.” It can lead to them developing a sense of entitlement, narcissism, a lack of empathy, and, well, kinda just being an asshole. Coincidence? Maybe. Either way, I thought I’d take our Canadian Boy’s spotlighted rebellion and the viral Huff Post Article as an opportunity to clear up the biggest misconception around self-compassion. This might be review for those of you who follow my blog, but it never hurts to have a refresher! 🙂
Self-Compassion Is Not Being Self-Indulgent/Letting Yourself Do Whatever the F&@* You Want
Oftentimes when I mention the term, “Self-compassion,” my clients cringe. You might have just cringed right now as you read it. I get it. I’ve been there. Perfectionists fear it, men or those of us who’ve been socialized to believe it’s a sign of weakness scoff at it, and people who are depressed believe they’re undeserving of it (generalizations, of course). Sometimes, I think we do the strategy a disservice by calling it that. Instead, think of it as “Healthy Striving” or “Self-Coaching” or “Internal Authoritative Parenting,” or something along those lines–a name that embodies setting expectations for yourself, holding yourself accountable, and behaving in line with your values and morals, while at the same time having empathy and understanding for your humanness, inevitable struggles, and unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstances. Whereas the message behind the “Gold star for everyone” self-esteem movement of the 80’s and 90’s said “You’re perfect!!!” the message behind the self-compassion movement of NOW is “You’re imperfect, like the rest of humankind, and that’s OK. You’re still a worthy person.”
“But Megan,” you say, “If I tell myself it’s OK to be imperfect, I’ll lose all motivation! I’ll quit my job and drop out of school and watch Netflix and subsist on Goldfish Crackers! I’ll become broke and homeless and obese and I’ll hate myself!”
Fair fears. That’s what happened to me. The only reason I’m writing this is because I couldn’t afford my subscription any longer, Safeway was out of Goldfish, and writing an article on my lunch hour was the only other option.
Kidding. That’s not what happened to me when I started being more supportive to myself. That’s not what happened to Kristin Neff, Paul Gilbert, Pema Chodron, Ron Siegel, or Chris Germer either (maybe not household names, but all highly regarded researchers or practitioners in the self-compassion field). In fact, research shows that self-compassion actually makes people MORE efficient (say what?).
Here’s the thing. Self-compassion is still focused on keeping your best interests in mind. Is it in your best interest to quit your job and live off of Goldfish? Is that going to make you happy for more than a few hours/days? Eventually, you’re going to get stiff, or you’re going to have watched everything, or you’re going to get scurvy. Either way, you’re going to reach a point where you realize Goldfish and Netflix are no longer serving you.
The thing is, if you beat yourself up for it, you might not be able to mindfully make a change to your unserving situation. Why? Because when we beat ourselves up, we create shame, and shame is a naaasty emotion. It makes us want to avoid and numb, which, conveniently, can be done quite well through Goldfish and Netflix. And so the cycle continues, you see?
Remember the different parenting styles? Take a moment to review:
Here’s another one just to really hammer it home:
So, how are JB and the “Horrible” people of the Huff Post article doing it? Indulgent/Permissive. How are you doing it if you’re constantly beating yourself up? Authoritarian. What style does self-compassion mirror? Authoritative. When we’re authoritative with ourselves, we feel guilt rather than shame around our mistakes (i.e. “I did something bad” rather than “I am bad”), and are more able to bring our attention to how we can remediate our error and/or prevent it from happening again in the future. We empathize with our uncomfortable feelings, take into account intention and context and what’s in and out of our control, and explore how we can grow from our less than preferred behaviour(s).
Let’s take the Netflix example–here’s how you might respond to yourself with self-compassion: “I’m feeling guilty because I’ve spent the weekend watching Netflix and eating Goldfish crackers, when I know I would probably feel better if I got some laundry done, went to the gym, and visited my Aunt. I guess I’ve been pretty worn down these past couple weeks, and Orange is the New Black is really addictive and totally passes the Bechdel Test, but I think this way of recharging stopped serving me about 3 episodes in. Next time I find myself wanting to spend the weekend doing this, I’m going to remember this past weekend and it will motivate me to put down the Goldfish. Either way, I’m still likable and worthy.”
See how that differs from “Do whatever the F#@* you want because you’re perfect as is” (permissive/indulgent) or “You’re a lazy piece of crap” (authoritarian)?
Now, we don’t always learn the first time. Sometimes it takes 3, or 7, or 84 times before responding to ourselves in such a way gets us off the couch. But I can guarantee you that spitting insults at yourself about how “lazy” and “unproductive” you are will not make you rush off to the gym with a big smile on your face. In fact, it’ll probably just increase the anxiety, shame, and depression you might be feeling. On the other hand, mindful awareness + self-compassion = change.
To sum, self-compassion (or whatever you decide to call it) is legit and can make you happier, more productive, and more successful in interpersonal relationships. Let’s all practice some towards JB, and maybe he’ll be able to recognize his behaviour is not OK, and we’d like to see something different in the future, but we still Belieb in him.