By: Lindsay Melka, LPC
Self-criticism, self-comparison and shame are part of being human. Early in life, we learn to compare and contrast ourselves to everything and everyone. The emotion of shame develops from early experiences that become attached to our sense of self-worth and awareness of where we fit in with the world. The good news is, when we become open to tuning into ourselves, we can begin to develop an understanding the causes and consequences of our shame and our tendencies to compare ourselves to others.
The first step in meditating our habits of shame and comparison is to deliberately bring awareness to it. Eek! This is no walk on the beach, but fortunately, it can create tremendous growth. When we look closer at how we have been talking to ourselves, putting ourselves down or comparing ourselves to others, we can see how it’s an old story, an old narrative of how we’ve perceived ourselves in the world. Often times, we tell ourselves what’s wrong with us and what needs to be fixed. Unfortunately, this keeps us stuck in an unworkable pattern of living. Healing, on the other hand, is about creating a new relationship with ourselves and creating a new story, a story that aligns with who we really are, a deeply loving, worthy and acceptable human being.
Let’s do an exercise to get a feel for how this works. First, ask yourself- “What do I see as my worst flaws or inadequacies?” Next, and VERY importantly- “How do you tend to be with yourself around other people with those same flaws and inadequacies?” And finally- Do you approach them with compassion and openness?” “Do you feel alone in your struggles with or do you feel that other’s experience this too?” Reflect on this for a little while and note how you feel. Do you see the self-criticism, the self-comparisons?
This is my favorite exercise for true internal self-reflection. Why? Because we really get to see that how we treat ourselves are often times much worse than how we would treat anyone else. Imagine switching roles with one of your best friends. Imagine talking to her about his or her flaws the way we talk about them with ourselves. We would be a terrible friend!!
So what can we do about it? Hands down, the most important thing we can do when trying to alleviate shame, self-criticism and self-comparison is to begin to practice compassion for ourselves and for others. What stands between you and being a friend to yourself? Do you have fears about being kind and compassionate to yourself? I would guess that it is easy to practice compassion for others, but not so easy for yourself. When we have compassion for others, we naturally begin to feel more accepting of ourselves. We lose tendencies to judge and we practice the amazing skill of acceptance.
Give yourself some time to review your “old” story. Is there a way to incorporate a little more compassion and understanding? How we would console a friend who felt this way? Would we tell him/her that they should compare themselves to others? That they should focus on their perceived flaws? Of course not!
Be nice to yourself today, offer compassion to others and give yourself a break. You’re perfect the way you are. Imperfections and all…
Lindsay Melka is the owner of Empathic Counseling and Psychotherapy in Denver, Colorado. Lindsay specializes in working with clients who struggle with shame, low self-esteem and personal relationships. She has worked closely in the field of addiction and co-occurring disorders for 10 years and has recently honed in on her passion of working with individuals who are navigating their way through deep, interpersonal work.