Why Self-Compassion is Important for Living Our Faith

are you kind to yourself

You forgot to prep dinner before you left for work…again. Now, you have to whip together dinner, do the laundry, and prepare for tomorrow instead enjoying of the relaxing evening you’d envisioned.

“I can never do anything right,” you tell yourself, “why do I even bother trying?” Then your thoughts take you down the past of feeling like your life is a mess and thinking that everyone else has it together—that everyone else’s life is perfect.

We’ve all had moments like these where we don’t live up to our high standards of being the perfect person, friend, wife, girlfriend, daughter, and so on. We feel like a failure for not living up to our expectation for ourselves.

Who’s Expectations?

And yet, why do we hold ourselves to such high and exacting standards? Does God expect absolute perfection from us at all times or else He withholds His love from us?

For many of us, we hold ourselves to an impossible standard of perfection, believing that, unless we are perfect and never make a single mistake, we aren’t worthy of being loved by others. We believe that, unless we do everything perfectly, we’re not worthy. We equate making mistakes with being unlovable both by others and by ourselves.

When we don’t live up to our impossible standard of perfection, our sense of self-worth crumbles. And when we stumble, we think that others look at us and say, “Wow, she’s a mess. She can’t keep it together.”

It’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking this way, but is it really true? Are we really worthless and a mess if we make the occasional mistake?

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We’ve all heard the phrase, “mistakes happen” and we’ve probably offered it as reassuring advice to someone else at some point in our lives. After all, it’s true. No one is perfect and mistakes really do happen. What matters much more than the mistake itself is how we respond to that mistake.

Do you let that mistake define you or do you rise above that mistake? Do you berate yourself and let that mistake chip away at your sense of self-worth? Or, do you extend the kindness you show to others to yourself? Do you turn away from the love and compassion God has for you even when you make mistakes?

How to Treat Yourself with Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is the answer to forgiving yourself for the mistakes you’ve made without letting that mistake define your self worth.

After all, God forgives us of our sins no matter what we’ve done. He doesn’t withdraw His love for us when we make mistakes or sin. He shows compassions towards us and towards our brothers and sisters. When we let our mistakes tell us we’re a failure, we push away God’s love and compassion for us.

So next time you make a mistake, try to respond to yourself with compassion instead of criticism.

How do you treat yourself with self-compassion? It can be helpful to think about how you’d treat a friend who’d made the same mistake. My guess is that you wouldn’t tell your friend, “You’re the worst person ever. How could you possibly be less than perfect?” (Can you imagine?)

But that’s exactly something we’d think to ourselves when we make a mistake. You’d likely offer your friend some reassuring words to lift them up and to help them look beyond their mistake. Why withhold the same compassion from yourself? Just like your friends, you are lovable and equally deserving of compassion.

The next time you find yourself making a mistake, try to treat yourself with the same compassion you would a friend. Think, “What would I tell a friend who’s in the same situation?” and then extend that same compassion reaction to yourself.

Putting It to Practice

For example, I recently accidentally double-booked a time slot at my job as a therapist. When I realized the mistake, I panicked. My first thoughts were, “I can’t believe I did this. How could I have missed it?” and “I’m a terrible therapist for making this mistake and double-booking”.

See how I quickly my thoughts jumped from disbelief over my mistake to some pretty harsh judgments about myself?

Luckily, I could myself before my thoughts could spiral downward and I was able to take a moment to exercise some self-compassion, tell myself that “I will make scheduling errors in my career and, aside from this instance, I have a pretty good track-record of not double-booking”, and I went into problem solving mode. I was able to move my clients around to accommodate everyone and my clients were wonderful and understanding about my mistake.

Honoring God’s Love for You

When you treat yourself with compassion, you are honoring the love that God has for you. After all, He loves you just as you are. He doesn’t withhold His love from you when you make mistakes. Instead, He welcomes you with compassion, mercy, and loving arms. When we are compassionate to ourselves and others, we are embracing God’s love for us. Try it!

Do you struggle with being kind to yourself?

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Julia Marie Hogan is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Chicago with a mission to help people live fuller and more authentic lives every day. Her new book, It’s Okay to Start with You, published by Our Sunday Visitor, is all about the power of embracing your worth. You can find out more about her here.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Carol McConnell
    October 21, 2019 at 9:51 am

    I struggle with this based on my biblical interpretation of “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” How do we reconcile this belief with the reality we aren’t perfect?

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