We are usually our own worst critics. We easily judge and place higher expectations on ourselves more than others. Its okay to have high expectations of yourself but not when you beat yourself up to the point of causing you to lower your self-esteem and degrade yourself.
I had a therapist in grad school. I remember talking to her often about the amount of anxiety I had over grades. I got a “C” on a paper and almost has an absolute meltdown over it. She asked me what I would say to a friend if she came to me and was so distraught over getting a “C.”
I said, “A ‘C’ is not an ‘F’. And grades in grad school don’t matter in the long run. It’s just one paper.”
My therapist said, “Why can’t you say that to yourself? What makes you so special that you have to be better than everyone else? Why are your expectations so greater than what others should be achieving?”
I remember how narcissistic I felt in that moment. But my thinking did not come from true narcissism. I replied, “I guess I feel I have to try harder than everyone else just to be as good as them.” This was linked to the way I felt about my own body image. In my mind since I wasn’t thin or pretty I somehow had to be really smart or super successful to make up for it. It was a therapeutic breakthrough for me to see the connections in my thinking.
I realized that I wasn’t permitting myself the forgiveness and acceptance I provided others. Self-compassion heals us. It tells us that when we make mistakes or don’t meet our expectations we are still good, still worthy of love, still full of strengths.
How do we practice self-compassion? Here are several exercises you can use on those days where you degrade yourself because of a mistake or shortcoming so you can get back on track to being the beautiful person and mom you are meant to be, flaws and all.
–Be Your Own Best Friend– When you find those judgmental thoughts creeping in ask yourself “What would I say if this were my best friend thinking and feeling this way?”
–Write yourself a letter. Write a letter to yourself telling yourself what you are worth. You can use sentences such as “You are a great person because of…” “You are worth of love because….” “You are worthy of forgiveness because ….” You can use this letter as a tool in future circumstances to remind yourself of all the good in you and how that outweighs the mistakes or shortcomings you make.
–Allow yourself to lower expectations. Write down 5-10 things you expect of yourself. Try to think of the expectations that you often feel you fail to meet. Then ask yourself, “is this what should be expected from everyone?” Try to alter your expectations to be more fair and reasonable so you don’t drive yourself to continued disappointment. (i.e . Changing expectation from “I must always have a clean home” to “I can permit myself to have a messy home as long as I make some efforts each day to clean parts of it.”
–Practice self-care after you fail or make a mistake. Now I’m not talking about drowning your sorrows in a tub of ice cream or spending 100 bucks on a pair of shoes to make yourself feel better. I’m talking about doing something kind for yourself that is sending a message that you are still worthy of love and kindness despite faults or mistakes. Ask for a hug from someone, go out on a nice walk, journal about things you’re proud of, or spend some time meditating. Use this time as a reflection of the good in you and moving on from your mistake.
–Recognize and replace degrading thoughts. When you find yourself saying negative things to yourself after a mistake (i.e. “I can’t believe I yelled at my son this morning. I’m such a bad mom.”) stop yourself. Recognize this thought as an unhelpful thought. Find a way to replace the thought with something more rational and healing to you. “I yelled at my son this morning. I can try harder next time to take a deep breath and control myself. I will apologize to my son. I deserve forgiveness and can move on past this to have a good day.”
So give yourself compassion Mamas. You are worthy of it because you are a human being. You are permitted to make mistakes. You deserve better than to put yourself down when you could have done things better. Learn from your mistakes and move on with the knowledge that you are still a great person. I hope you can practice a few minutes of self-compassion and begin the work of letting go of those past mistakes or flaws. You are the mama you are meant to be, just as you are.