“Can you give yourself some grace?” It’s a question I ask many clients regularly when they come to me to talk about whatever is causing them emotional pain. Sometimes they look back at me in confusion. “What do you mean, grace?”
“Can you give yourself as much compassion in this moment, or any moment when you’re feeling badly, as you would give your best friend?”
Many of us have negative self-talk “tapes” that run through our heads constantly. Often, we aren’t even aware of the messages we are giving ourselves. Think about it. The last time you made a mistake, said the wrong thing, burned dinner (I did that just the other day), couldn’t get out of bed because anxiety was sitting so hard on your chest, what was the conversation you had with yourself?
Would we say those same words out loud to our friend, our partner, our child, even an acquaintance who had come to us for help or advice? No? Then why do we treat ourselves so poorly? Shouldn’t we give ourselves as much kindness and grace as we afford others?
Many times, we aren’t even aware of the grinding negativity we heap upon ourselves. I mean, we aren’t generally saying anything out loud, but if we tune in what do we hear? And whose voices are we hearing? It could be our third-grade teacher berating us for having to use the bathroom too often when in reality we were just trying to manage our 8-year-old self’s anxiety about spelling tests. Or it might be our dad, telling us we to stop crying or he’d give us something to cry about. It could be our youth minister, telling us we’re going to hell after we finally worked up the courage to come out to her. There’s no shortage of negative input from our past, so why are we dragging it with us into our present?
Learning to be patient and kind to ourselves takes practice and work. First, we have to recognize that we are giving ourselves these messages. We have to become conscious. And unless we have done the work to become aware and present, most of the time we walk through life unconscious. If we pause for a moment after making an error and ground ourselves in the moment, we can then choose how to react. We can berate ourselves (loser, idiot, stupid, what a fuck up) or we can shower ourselves with kindness and love (it’s ok, you’ll do better next time, it’s not a big deal, there’s a pandemic, of course you’re anxious/depressed/uncertain/lonely).
We’re all trying harder to practice kindness during this weird time–waving at strangers as we cross the road to avoid breathing the same air, yelling across the yard to chat with our neighbors as we check in on their well-being, touching base with those we know might need some extra help, having online gatherings with friends we may not have seen in a while.
Let’s all practice giving ourselves at least that much grace while we’re at it.