Why it’s important and how to give it. Or at least how to start.
I don’t know who first said this and I’m sure you might have heard this before but if you haven’t, then let me be the one to introduce you to the idea that we say things to ourselves that we would never think of saying to another person.
In other words, we tend to be the most critical, judgmental, harsh and unforgiving towards ourselves then we would ever consider being towards another. Ew!
This truth makes me sad. However, I’ve seen time and time again how an individual holds themselves up to totally unrealistic standards or expectations, while they openly forgive, allow for mistakes and make space for other people. Typically this comes from a pattern of thoughts and behaviors that have reinforced the idea that we aren’t good enough or that we don’t deserve it (whatever it may be). Whenever I see this, I start to introduce the idea of kindness. Not necessarily to others, although that’s nice too, but kindness to ourselves. Whenever I find myself being overly critical or harsh towards something I’ve done, I try to extend a bit of grace towards myself for the truth of imperfection in my own life and self-compassion for wherever I am on a given day. So what exactly is self-compassion and grace?
Self-Compassion can be defined as extending compassion towards one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure or general suffering.
Grace can be defined as courteous goodwill and can be traced back to the Latin term gratia meaning “pleasing, thankful.” There is also a spiritual component of grace in the idea that love is freely given to another without having to be earned.
I like that the definition of self-compassion includes the language perceived inadequacy or failure. That reminds me that the bar I’m setting and the belief that I’m not hitting the mark, is based on my own perception. A perception that likely isn’t matching anyone else’s either. Maybe that’s true for you too. You think you don’t dress, talk, act, clean your house, parent your kids or eat enough green vegetables to be getting it right, but if you asked anyone else they would probably give you two different answers that sound something like either “I don’t know.” or “I don’t care.”
I think it’s important to realize that most people aren’t actually paying that much attention to you to even have an opinion about what you wear, how you talk, how much dust is on your end table or what you ate for lunch. The people who do have an opinion of those things also fall into 2 main categories as well: either their opinion doesn’t actually matter all that much or it’s an opinion of a person that you love, value and respect enough to apply meaning to it. Sometimes we get stuck in the trap of thinking that everyone’s opinion matters when in reality it just doesn’t. The way I explain this is that if we can’t identify how someone else’s opinion actually impacts me, then it probably doesn’t matter. For instance, if I get a strange look from someone else in the grocery store and I perceive that look to be a judgement on my choice to run into the store in my pajamas to buy milk for the next morning, then I have to ask myself that if (and most of the time it is an if, because we are not mind readers!) this stranger does in fact think I’m a hot mess to be out in public in my pj’s, then how exactly does that impact me? I just haven't identified a meaningful reason to allow what you think might be someone else’s opinion of you to matter in these types of situations.
Sometimes though there are people in our lives that we do care about and respect, and their opinion of us does matter. Here I think it’s a bit more tricky because sometimes we care and respect people that don’t do the same for us. For example, maybe my boss has a different style of dress than I do. Does my boss’ option of me matter? Usually it does. Maybe my sibling has a different way of parenting than I do. Do I care what my sibling thinks of me as a parent? Probably. But here’s where we get caught up. We assume that if my boss dresses different then me or my sibling parents their children differently than I do, that they will value me less as a human being because of that choice. Is it not possible that we can have differing opinions and still value one another? Is it not possible that my choice to dress, parent, eat green vegetables can be different than their’s but still have merit and worth? Is it not possible that the value I hold to the other people in my life that are actually important to me can be defined outside of these things ? What if I’m a loving, supportive, safe parent who just so happens to let me kid eat dirt, while my sibling who is also a loving, supportive and safe parent uses more hand sanitizer than a general surgeon? What if our opinion of one another and thus of ourselves can be defined by who we are and not all of the choices we make?
But sometimes people argue that the choices we make define who we are. I agree with that in some ways. I agree that my intention to act loving towards others and also be self-loving matters and defines a part of who I am. I agree that my choice to be compassionate towards others and also myself defines a part of who I am. I agree that the decisions I make to give grace to others in all of their mess, while I also am willing to extend grace to myself for all of my mess does in fact define a part of who I am. I disagree that how many vegetables I ate last night, what time I let my kid go to bed, the last time I dusted by bookshelf or my repulsion over wearing high heels to work says a damn thing about who I am as a person. None of those things have any impact on my value or my worth. Just like we have to decide whose opinion matters to us, we have to identify what choices and behaviors matter to us. Which one’s define who we are and which one’s define our worth and value. Which ones are just behaviors that if I mess up and don’t like, that I don’t have to repeat. Those are just things. Those are just high heels sitting in my closet that I will almost never wear.
So before we start practicing self-compassion and grace, I think it’s important to be clear with what we are judging ourselves against. What bar are we actually measuring ourselves with? And whose bar is it anyway? Who are we allowing to set the bar? And are we allowing ourselves to have any say so in this bar? Can anyone tell me where this actual “bar” is so I can find it and replace it with my own?
If any of this has resonated with you, I’d love to hear. Drop me a message or shoot me an email. Stay tuned for more ideas, thoughts and suggestions about practicing self-compassion and grace in real life situations too!
With peace, lots of grace and brave hearts,