The most important relationship in your life and how to nurture it

a women sitting on rock by the sea

Have you ever been harsh on yourself when you procrastinate on an important project? Have you ever put too much pressure on yourself to make the “right” decision? Have you ever beaten yourself up and thought that you should be better, achieve more and that you don’t quite measure up in your mind?

I know I certainly have. In fact, if I look back to my childhood and even now into my thirties, I know  I can be too critical of myself, no matter how good other people tell me I am. I often set (very) high standards for myself and hide behind the excuse of being a perfectionist (this is a topic for another post!). While this can sometimes act as an effective motivator, it can also put myself under unnecessary stress and result in a waste of energy if I feel I am not living up to my own standards.

You may also relate to this. Almost every one of us has those moments of self-criticism and self-doubt, regardless of how successful or high-achieving we are by the society’s standards. Those questions such as “Am I good enough?” “Am I worth it?” can come from early childhood, or from family, peers and society, in general. We always want to do more, be better, aim higher, to live up to our own standards or to win appreciation, recognition and love from others.

What can we do about it?

One thing I’ve learnt in the last couple of years is to practice self-compassion. To me, it is about developing an understanding, accepting and compassionate relationship with ourselves. Most of the time, we are constantly doing things to take care of the needs of others – be it our boss, client, friend, family, partner or child. We often ignore the most important relationship of all – the relationship with ourselves.

We rarely take enough time to take care of and love ourselves. We always strive for other people’s understanding, recognition and love, yet we don’t always realise that the most precious source of love and recognition is from ourselves. We can be our own very worst critics, and we rarely treat ourselves with understanding, care and compassion.

In fact, psychologists have also become interested in self-compassion and its impact on well-being and motivation. Kristen Neff, a leading researcher in the field of self-compassion, defines self-compassion with the following three key components from a combination of ancient Buddhism wisdom and her decades of research:

1) self-kindness (vs. self-judgement): treating oneself with kindness rather than harsh judgements;

2) common humanity (vs. isolation) – seeing own experience as part of a larger human experience , not in isolation;

3) mindfulness (vs. over-identification) – acknowledging and allowing ourselves to be with painful feelings as they are, rather than avoiding or suppressing them.

There is also a growing body of scientific research showing that a higher level of self-compassion is positively associated with positive emotions, optimism and happiness, as well as lower level of anxiety and depression. In addition, evidence also suggests that self-compassion can increase the level of self-improvement motivation.  What gets even better is that research also suggests that people with high self-compassion also reported lower procrastination tendency than those with lower self-compassion. These findings should  come as a relief for those who are worried that self-compassion may lead us to becoming too content with ourselves and to lose our motivation. It turns out that adopting a more accepting approach to our failure and difficulties actually makes us more motivated to improve ourselves.

So how can we practise self-compassion and develop  a more compassionate relationship with ourselves?

 1.    Treat yourself with kindness from a perspective of a trusting and understanding friend. Talk to yourself as if you are talking to your best friend (you wouldn’t tell your best friend “you are just not worth it” if she fails to deliver a project, would you?). Pay attention to what you are saying to yourself. Are you talking to yourself from a place of love and compassion, or from a place of harsh judgements? Whenever you notice you are judging yourself harshly, try to replace it with what you would say to your best friend if he/she is in a similar situation.

 2.    Give yourself some space and time. You know how important it is to spend time with your beloved family and friends. They don’t want expensive gifts or treats and what they most value is your presence, to be with them even just for a chat. And it is the same with yourself.  How often do you set aside time to have an honest chat with yourself, or just sit down having a coffee and reading a book without other distractions? Spend time with yourself and get to know yourself. Only when you nourish yourself, you will have the energy and love to give to others.

 3.    Recognise that where you are is a necessary step to where you want to be. No matter how stuck you feel or how challenging the current situation is, it presents an opportunity for you to grow. Sometimes we set our eyes so firmly on where we want to but don’t appreciate enough where we are. Where we are right here and right now is the real place where you can acknowledge and understand your true feelings. Pay attention to what you are experiencing right now – even if it can be painful or scary sometimes, stay with them and explore them with an open mind and curiosity, because that is the place where you can truly connect with and understand yourself to prepare you for your next milestone.

4.    Know that you are good enough, as you are. You don’t need other people’s approval and recognition to feel worthy. You don’t need other people’s love to feel complete. You have everything, including your power and wisdom, all within you. It is like a diamond being covered under the layers of clays and ashes – all you need is to be willing to explore, dig deeper with a sense of openness and acceptance to uncover your inner brilliance that is already in you.Remember, there will only be one you on this planet, ever. You are precious, just as you are.

5.    Practice empathy. Empathy is different from sympathy in that empathy is about understanding that what you are experiencing is common to all human being – love, fear, suffering is all part of being human, and we are all in this together.  You don’t necessarily feel sorry for yourself or others, but you understand such feelings.  That very understanding gives you the permission to be human, to recognise and acknowledge that other human beings share similar joy and pain as you do,  and you are not alone. By doing that, you will also feel more empathetic to others, even to those people you may have issues with.

Now I’d love to hear from you. How would you describe your relationship with yourself? In what way do you relate and connect with yourself? I’d love to hear if you’ve taken away any insights from today’s post and what actions you are going to take to bring more self-compassion to your life.

To your loving self,


(Picture taken in Cascais in Portugal)

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