My life has been turned upside down. I am approaching 40 as I embark on a new journey to start over once again. Over the past year my husband has been working in another state and traveling home on weekends. In the beginning I was motivated and self-confident, however as the year has progressed I have become more and more disconnected and shut-down in an effort to survive the changes of managing work, parenting alone, a long-distance marriage, and making the hard decision to move. While focusing on helping my children manage their emotions about moving, I didn’t realize how lost I had become.

I have worked hard over the years to maintain my independence, self-sustaining my own happiness through daily reflection, meditation, and years of therapy. I have tried to not allow others to influence my happiness and if they did, I worked on minimizing the impact with emotional expression, boundaries, and pushing myself to do it alone. What I have realized this past year is that maybe I can’t do it all alone, I need compassion and validation from others. But what I need most of all is compassion for myself when I struggle, because let’s face it– self-compassion is easy when we feel like we’ve got it together and are doing things right and very, very difficult when we don’t and we’re not.

“There is a problem, and the problem is me.” Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance, calls this the “trance of unworthiness” so inherent in our culture. Personal deficiency mirrors the larger culture, in order to belong we earn our value through competing with one another. Nowhere is this more apparent than on social media. “Please just see me and validate me, alleviate my fear that I don’t matter and I’m not enough”. All of us are susceptible to falling into the short-term relief from suffering using external validation, typically followed by guilt or shame and increased feelings of inadequacy.

In order to break free of the trance we must first recognize the damage of guilt and shame that comes from this self-critical existence. Guilt and shame flood our brains with cortisol and norepinephrine, sending our brains into survival mode; which inhibits growth. We literally stay stuck in the shame cycle, then blame ourselves for being stuck. We believe we are motivating ourselves with self-criticism, but in fact we are de-motivated instead. According to Kristen Neff, self-compassion researcher; resistance to taking away the self-critical voice comes from the illusion of control it provides. We think that by being harder on ourselves we are more in control and if we stop we will become complacent, lazy, etc.

Self-compassion is a mindfulness practice designed to address self-critical thoughts and negative core-beliefs (not enough, not worthy, victim). Self-esteem is unstable because it is based largely on external factors (accomplishment & belonging) which are always changing, self-compassion is stable because it is based on internal factors (value). Kristen Neff, self-compassion researcher, developed a self-compassion quiz to measure how self-compassionate you are, click here to get started. In addition, here is a link to her TedTalk Overcoming Objections to Self-compassion.