How to Be Gentle with Yourself
By: Rochelle Perper, Ph.D. | May 12, 2017
Life is hard. Yet, many of us make it worse by being hard on ourselves. We waste precious time beating ourselves up, wallowing in guilt, or chastising ourselves for mistakes we feel we’ve made. We live in a “Get Over It and Move On” society where we are implicitly or explicitly encouraged to be a certain person or act in a certain way, no matter what the circumstance. We compare ourselves to others and ask ourselves: “What’s wrong with me?”
Somewhere along the overachieving path of seeking perfection and always looking into the future, we lose touch with our accomplishments. We fail to recognize gains that we have made. This can lead to depression, anxiety, guilt, isolation, and defeat.
A new way of thinking
The phrase “be gentle with yourself” may sound like a good idea, but what does it really mean? The expression represents a philosophy; a new way of thinking and being that emphasizes the process rather than the endgame. Being gentle with ourselves means giving ourselves permission not to be the best that’s humanly possible, but rather to do the best we can right now. This philosophy reminds us that our version of “best” will look different than anyone else’s. For some of us, depending on where we are in life and the status of our mental health, our version of trying our best might be as simple as getting through the day.
What’s important is that we keep trying. If we’re depressed and trying to be happy, we must continue trying, again and again and again. We must learn to give ourselves as much time as we need to make our lives better. This is not a simple process and certainly does not happen overnight. There is no deadline or “normal” amount of time that it takes to do something, especially regarding our emotions and life choices.
It is especially important to be gentle with ourselves if we’re doing things that we’ve never done before or that exist outside of our comfort zones. Doing something new for the first time is not easy. Realizing this fact helps us to develop more reasonable expectations and to be patient with ourselves as we are still in the process of growing and transforming.
Easier said than done
“Being gentle with yourself” is easier said than done. It involves an entire change in the way we’ve been conditioned to think for years and years and years. To make a change in our thinking, we must first recognize that the old way of thinking no longer serves us well. In doing this, it helps to remind ourselves of a process that works better for us, which is recognizing how far we’ve come instead of how far we have left to go.
Most people find it helpful to work with a Psychologist trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to offer guidance and support towards a new, more balanced way of thinking. Below are some strategies to utilize either in therapy or at home to work towards being gentler with ourselves.
Strategies to practice
- Be Patient
- Remember that no one is perfect and what really matters is the effort we put forth towards our goal
- Create time to relax every week and just ‘be’
- Slow down and simplify tasks
- Practice saying ‘no’ to commitments that don’t serve your values and simply add unnecessary responsibility
- Give Self Praise
- Acknowledge your accomplishments and small successes
- Take time to celebrate with small rewards instead of rushing to the next best thing
- Let go of the stories that you replay about the past and the worries you create for the future
- Look Inward
- Start each day with 10 minutes of writing, reading, or yoga instead of rushing out the door or jumping right into work
- Find a meditation and practice it daily
- Journal in the evening before bedtime to peel back layers and uncover what is underneath instead of pushing it away
- Allow time to embrace the sadness and lean into your fears instead of placing a patch on them
“Taking care of ourselves” is when we take the time to reconnect with our inner being, replace our fears with trust, and learn to let go of the things we cannot control. Over time, we will feel most at peace when we learn to accept ourselves as we are, complete with our flaws, and be the best we can for our own selves.
Being gentle with ourselves every day means giving ourselves credit for what we’ve already accomplished, not getting stuck in the “woulda, coulda, shouldas,” and giving ourselves a path of hope for everything that is yet to come.