Words are powerful. Sometimes they are hard to find. The emotions and feelings are all locked up inside, but struggling to be released. Words alone have the power to both heal and wound. Being intentional with the words we use matters for they can encourage and connect or harm and divide.
How we use words adds to their power (think tone of voice). Can you hear all the ways our kids say “OK”? (Cue in the eye rolls and exasperated breath and you get a different feeling or gut response). Our words are also packaged with non-verbals that add to their meaning. “Hi” or “Hello” comes across very differently with eye contact and a smile, than without. The words, tone, and non-verbals we use vary depending on the situation and whom we’re talking to.
What are the words we say to ourselves? What tone (or whose words) would we hear? Compassion for others (and ourselves) can be a key to navigating through these exchanges. However, self-compassion can be a challenge. We likely say different things to ourselves than to our friends or family. Do you ever catch yourself comforting a friend for something you were beating yourself up about days before? Ever compliment your child for going outside their comfort zone, but focus only on the mistakes made in our own risk-taking? It turns out that we’re wired that way.
Neuroscience helps us understand that our self-critical self-talk comes from our reptilian brain. Since it’s designed to keep us safe, it is always looking for potential danger. Self-criticism, therefore, comes from our reptilian brain’s desire to protect us. Self-compassion moves us from the reptilian brain to the mammalian caregiving brain that’s wired to nurture. We have the skills for self-compassion and use them with our children, our friends, co-workers/colleagues, and even strangers. We just need to remember to practice self-compassion with ourselves.
Like self-compassion, smiling (to ourselves and others) is a super-power that we all share. With a smile, a laugh, a hug, and eye contact, we make better sense of the intentions of others.
Resources for further reading:
“A parent’s self-compassion influences their child’s well-being. Researchers speculate that when parents model a non-judgmental attitude toward themselves, adolescents imitate their example. Self-Compassionate Parents, Happier Teens (2014)
Self-criticism, loneliness, and uncertainty about the future are some of the biggest challenges for adolescents. This study suggests that responding to personal failures and shortcomings with kindness, rather than criticism or rumination, is especially critical for adolescents’ emotional well-being. How Self-Compassion Can Help Teens De-Stress (2016)
Research has shown that teens (and adults) can benefit from self-compassion in a variety of ways. For teens, self-compassion appears to have a protective effect against trauma, peer victimization, depression and self-harm, and low self-esteem…. Teens who grow in self-compassion also become less depressed and stressed, as well as more resilient and better able to embrace new experiences. How to Help Teens Become More Self-Compassionate (2017)
Dr. Kristin Neff shares her work on self-compassion in a “Take charge of your health and well-being” educational interview.