Know your worst enemy

Know your worst enemy
What started as a common cold rapidly developed into breathlessness and high fever. By the time Ria was rushed to the pediatric emergency, her condition had worsened and called for hospitalisation.

Diagnosed with pneumonia, the child made a slow road to recovery. In the meanwhile, her mother Shreya held herself responsible for Ria’s debilitated health. Overwhelmed with a sense of guilt, the “failed mom” quit her flourishing job.

Sometimes, we are our worst enemies. Through life’s vicissitudes, when we make mistakes, it’s usually followed by a deluge of self-critical thoughts. Just like the sharp-tongued parrot over your shoulder, the inner voice insults, smirks and puts you down for all those flaws. But then, isn’t self-criticism known to make you better and successful? Studies show that an incessant confrontation with your inner nitpicker can undermine your confidence and success. Isn’t there a better alternative?

Be kind to yourself

In her book Self-Compassion, Dr Kirsten Neff, a pioneer in the study of self-compassion, explains that you can be kind to yourself, accept your faults and, as a result, enjoy profound emotional benefits. From childhood, we learn to be tough on our mistakes and work harder to get better results. But do we need to make life miserable to be successful?

“It’s an irony that we are nice to the fleeting guest, but very difficult on ourselves. We tend to have high expectations for ourselves, and we fail to live up to them.Unfortunately, this internal critic, which is partly doing its course correction, often goes overboard,” says Simerjeet Singh, a motivational speaker. Your physical, mental and emotional self works at its best when you feel good about yourself. Choosing to be gentler with yourself will take you a step closer to leading a lighter, happier and fulfilled life.

Sadly, most people perceive being self-compassionate as being self-indulgent. “It’s a fine line, which one has to draw. If there is no respect or compassion for self, there is no foundation for self-esteem. But it becomes narcissism when we get obsessed with ourselves,” adds Simerjeet.

Imperfections, not inadequacies

As approval addicts, we constantly do and say things to please others. According to Dr Hemant Mittal, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, we judge ourselves based on others’ inputs rather than recognising our own beauty. “It’s very difficult to be kind to oneself, when all we do is find fault with ourselves,” he says.

Vyoma Nupur, a telecom marketing professional, couldn’t agree more. For years, she tried hard to conform to all the societal rules of acceptable behaviour. It gradually made her indecisive when it came to making crucial choices in life. “I don’t have a skinny body, and people made me feel as if not conforming to the societal stereotype was a crime. But now I have accepted myself for what I am and love myself. Over the years, I have worked towards staying healthy and happy, and refuse to be influenced by what others think of me. I have learned to say ‘no’ to things that don’t serve my best interests,” she maintains.

Being kind to yourself gives you the credit for what you do right and helps you to move on when you do something wrong. You feel at peace when you can stand up to your inner critic. “Recently, I turned down a job offer. The role and compensation were attractive, but the company’s environment and culture were not conducive. I respected my gut feelings. I could have beat myself up for allowing my ‘instincts’ to come in the way of a
lucrative opportunity, but I did what seemed right for me,” confides Vyoma.

Self-compassion is about realising that you are not perfect and that you are going to make mistakes. “Just like you forgive others for their mistakes, you have to forgive yourself as well when you err,” says Simerjeet.Shubham Chaudhary, a software developer, did his best not to blame himself or his team when his dream of a startup failed. Instead, he accepted the challenge and looked for ways to improve the situation. “Lamenting over the past is useless. I accept my mistake, deal with it, resolve not to repeat it and move on. I motivate myself to do better instead of thinking that I’m a failure,” he maintains.

“Forgiving myself gives me the courage to look beyond my circumstances and find solutions,” agrees Soham Banerjee, a student, who has had his fair share of
encounters with failed expectations.

Because you matter

The thought has been ingrained in us: If you think of yourself first, you are selfish. Far from being true, it’s important that you invest positive emotions, time and energy in yourself. Unless you are happy and healthy, it’s impossible to fulfill your duties, at home or at work.

Like most Indian women, Bhaimi Anand, a software professional, didn’t think much of her hobbies or preferences for a long time. It was always about  putting others’ needs before hers. “I tried to be a superwoman keeping aside all my happiness to enjoy at a later point in time. I was always thinking what society will think, if I didn’t do so. But over the years, I have learned that it’s okay to take help, to take a break…and that it’s impossible to make everybody happy,” she explains. Now Bhaimi makes time for things that she really enjoys, often asking for help from her family.

A growing number of studies show the powerful effects of self-compassion on health and wellbeing. In fact, one of the crucial ingredients to manage any illness is to treat oneself with kindness. When Sidharth Kriplani, a student, was diagnosed with diabetes, he admits that initially it was confusing and frustrating. “But I had to be kind to myself instead of falling into a deep pit of guilt and regret. I faced my fears and stopped being hard on myself and surprisingly, my body got healthier,” he reveals. As the wise Buddha so beautifully put it, “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
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