March 2016

Self-Compassion

Without It We Stay Stuck

Most of us are very hard on ourselves until we learn another way that is actually more useful. The ability to self-deprecate, flagellate, and otherwise condemn ourselves is a practiced skill. Bringing a new, self-compassionate dialogue to the fore is our focus this month. It is truly the art and science of self-directed neuroplasticity.

As we follow Sally and Donna, it is clear that Sally's self-talk is extremely negative. Though she may seem arrogant on the outside, on the inside she condemns herself unmercifully. Hence, she condemns those around her as well. Donna, as we have come to know her, has learned to be more gentle with herself, even when she makes mistakes.

Let's see where they are now.


We last saw Sally sitting in a bar feeling sorry for herself. She has convinced herself that James, the headhunter, doesn't have anything for her and that she is sunk. When she discovers that James is available to speak with her, she leaves the bar and starts driving but does not head toward The Perfect Position.

Sally drives out of the city. She can't wait to leave it behind her with all of its problems.

“I can't believe that Alex got me into this mess and he's not going to get me out of it!&#8221 she rants out loud. “Now I'm on my own. No one can help me. I'm really alone. Larry can't help me. No one can. But I know I'm good. I'm really good. I've always been a superstar. I'm still a superstar, really. I know! I'll start again in another city. That's what I'll do. We'll move. That's it. I'll talk to Larry about it. I'm sure he'll support me. He knows how much my job means to me. Since no one will ever hire me in this town again, we've got to move.”

Sally pulls a u-turn and heads home. When she arrives, she blasts into the house shouting, “Larry! Where are you? I've got great news!”

Larry comes out of his office, smiles, and asks, “Did James find a great placement for you?”

“No!” Sally retorts. “Why would you say something like that? He's not going to find anything for me. There's nothing for me in this city. Everyone thinks I'm a loser and a quitter. I can't show my face in this town. We're going to move. That's the great news.”

“What?!” Larry exclaims. “You're kidding, right? How could you just want to up and leave before you even find out if James has something for you? What is wrong with you? What in the world is going on in that beautiful head of yours?”

“I can't believe you're being so mean!” Sally responds. “You know how important my work is to me. How could you not want to support me? I do so much for you. It's the least you can do for me. And besides, if you really loved me, you would have suggested it already.”

Larry is stunned. He's shaking his head and grimacing. He moves to pour himself a drink as he says, “And are you thinking that I'm moving with you? That I should just drop all of the work I do here and follow you? Or are you only thinking of yourself and what's going to make you happy?”

Now it's Sally's turn to shake her head. She's aghast. “Here I'm feeling so bad about myself and you go rubbing it in. When I need support most, you're leaving me high and dry. What kind of a husband are you?”

Sally storms out of the room and stomps up the stairs to their bedroom. She slams the door behind her. A moment later, she opens the door and yells out, “Maybe I will move away on my own! Just see how you like that!”

While Sally and Larry are quieting down, let's check in on Donna and see what's happening with her...

Donna and Lorin spend a few minutes talking about how each of them have grown, how hard they used to be on themselves, and how much more fun they're having since they learned how to shift from negative self-talk to credit taking. After Lorin leaves, Donna takes a few minutes alone feeling full of gratitude, then sits down to work.

As she reads through her emails, she muses.

“Wow. I have such a great team. They are so accomplished. It is such a pleasure to see the quality of their work.” Donna decides to write that to them as she is responding to their emails.

“They're simply doing their jobs,” she responds to herself. “Why thank them? They're going to think it's disingenuous when it really counts.”

“No they won't,” she states aloud. “They know that I'm sincere and that I say what's true for me.”

“But aren't you treating them like children, giving them at-a-boys and at-a-girls?” she asks.

“No, I'm expressing my appreciation for them and letting them know that I see and appreciate their effort, they're competence, and their level of expertise. There's everything good about that,” she answers aloud.

“Okay, okay. As long as you don't go overboard,” she says to herself.

“Well, I'll find out. I'll ask them,” she states.

“And you think that they'll be honest with you, their boss?” she retorts.

“I would like to think that they will be truthful with me. Anyway, I'm going to ask and I'll watch for how they respond, not only their words,” she answers herself.

“Okay. The worst that will happen will be that they think it's too much and then you can back off,” she agrees.

“Yes. That's good. That's what I'll do. But for now, I'm letting them know how grateful I am,” she states.


If we read this episode of Sally and Donna looking for self-compassion, it is not obvious. With Sally, she is still in her blame state. She starts feeling sorry for herself, then blames her friend, Alex, then blames her husband. She's ready to move to escape the negative feelings she has about herself, though she thinks of it in terms of how she perceives others think about her. The fact that she is still in a blame state is a manifestation of her lack of self-compassion. If she looked at herself with self-compassion, she would realize that she was struggling, feeling bad about herself, and she would start to reflect on how she had handled the situation at Future Space. However, Sally hasn't shown that skill yet. She is doing everything possible to keep from self-reflecting.

Donna is quite different. Her ability to look at herself with understanding and self-compassion allows her to understand others better and feel compassion for them. This does not make her ineffective as a boss. In fact, it is the reverse. When she is self-compassionate, she has more room to listen to and understand others and to give them the kind of support they need to develop themselves and their potential. For Donna, this has been a huge learning accomplishment. She used to think that her being hard on herself made her a better boss. Desiring excellence is great, but when it turns to demanding perfection, followed by criticism, it is not so good. That turned Donna's world around and she is now reaping the rewards.

Back to top

Sign up for PeRLs of Wisdom

Our newsletter, PeRLs of Wisdom, will be emailed to you with resources related to the monthly topic such as additional activities, practices, discussions, quotes, and announcements of upcoming programs. You can unsubscribe from PeRLs of Wisdom at any time.