Disclaimer: This is a personal discussion around self-compassion and self-love with details about my own disappointments, sexual assaults, and critical self-talk that may be difficult for some clients to read about. This blog is divided into 3 parts to address the: disappointments, critical self-talk, and sexual assaults.
Part 1: Disappointments
Self-compassion was something I first heard about during my MSW. It refers to extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general struggle. It was advertised as the holy grail of therapy. I say this because I didn’t know how to practice it or feel at all connected to this concept. In my head, I would think “yeah, that sounds like someone who’s making an excuse for something. Why wouldn’t you just keep pushing through when it’s tough? That’s so weak of them.”
I had connected emotional strength to avoidance and tolerance, which didn’t help when I was faced with some personal crisis (I couldn’t find a job coming out of my MSW in the field despite starting my search 3 months before school had even ended. Everyone else in my class was getting hired and I wasn’t going anywhere. Plus, my partner of 6 years decided that our relationship was over. My world was spinning out of control).
You’re probably asking “what does this have to do with self-compassion?” Well, I believe looking back with the self-compassionate lens I have now, I can connect with the parts of me that needed care during that distressing time. Disappointments in life are something we all have to adjust to. Self-compassion gives us the emotional buffer and resilience to get through it. Looking back, a practice of self-compassion would have helped me accept that the job market is tough for anyone. Especially with 250 University of Toronto MSW graduates (not to mention graduates of other universities in the area) seeking work in the same field!
Part 2: Critical Self-Talk
When it comes to practicing self-compassion, it’s really important to examine where your critical self-talk comes up (my colleague Melissa wrote an amazing piece on that, click here to read more about it).
You can think of “critical self-talk” as the harsh internal dialogue you have with yourself. For example, my critical self-talk usually sounds like this: I complete a task/project at work and my critical self-talk says “you know, you need to check over that work. It’s probably wrong. You probably fucked it up again”. Where does this voice come from? It’s the critic I developed at home and at school. It’s that version of me that doesn’t feel like I’m good enough. That inner voice had benefited me growing up when I needed to accomplish things. Now it diminishes the effort and work I put into my achievements and it diminishes me as a person. A compassionate voice in the same situation would sound like this: “you got it done. I know, I know. You’re not sure if it was perfect. Then again, we’ve done such great work we didn’t think was perfect and here you are, still alive and standing. Achieving more and more each day”.
Is the compassionate voice easy for me to connect with? 100% not, and especially not when I’m in a raw and vulnerable spot or feeling miserable. However, this voice that I’ve had to practice (first by asking loved ones for reassurance and then trying it out with myself daily) has brought me great relief during difficult times.
Part 3: Sexual Assaults
When we don’t show ourselves love and compassion, we tend to end up in precarious situations that can be damaging to our body, mind, and spirit. For me, a loud critical self voice and a non-existent presence of self-compassion meant that if a partner wanted something from me, I didn’t have the voice to say ‘no’ even when I didn’t feel comfortable in engaging in intimacy or to feel like I deserved to say ‘no’ and set my own limits. I found myself feeling inferior and emotionally numb after certain sexual experiences. Without my self-compassion, I allowed others to cross my boundaries, and when they did, I blamed myself. I continued to blame myself even in situations when I had said ‘no’ or tried to leave. Sexual assault isn’t meant to be taken lightly. My accounts of it are purely my own experiences. Although the practice of self-compassion in these moments is hard, remember to take time to speak kindly to yourself as you would with a loved one. Being able to love yourself is the way you show others how you need to be treated.
How we speak to ourselves through our inner voice (whether it be critical or loving) spills into all aspects of our lives, whether it be in accomplishments or disappointments, fulfillment or harm. A practice of self-compassion is one we need to cultivate as individuals and as a society.
Do you sometimes have trouble saying “no”, or expressing what you really want? Don’t worry—you’re definitely not alone.
Many people struggle to communicate their needs and express personal limits with others. Setting boundaries sounds so simple yet it can be quite challenging to execute if you’re not accustomed to doing so.
If you do have difficulty setting boundaries, you might find yourself either drained from not being able to say no or feeling isolated because you haven’t shared what you need from others. Also, if you tend to be inconsistent with your boundaries (sometimes it’s “yes,” sometimes it’s “no”), then you’re likely sending mixed messages and leaving those around you confused about how to treat you.
Boundaries teach others how to treat us and communicate what we find to be acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. In some ways, setting boundaries is also about honouring the relationships around you, whether it is with family members, friends, partners or coworkers. Rather than expecting the people in your life to read your mind (and then feeling resentful because you’ve pushed your needs aside), tell the person how you feel.
How to set boundaries
First, identify the behaviour or action that has affected you, and briefly describe how you feel about it; then outline what boundary you want to put in place.
1. Share how you feel with “I” Statements:
“When you _______ (identify the behaviour), I feel _______ (name the emotion)”
“When you speak negatively about me in public, I feel disrespected.”
“When you look through my phone without my consent, I feel violated.”
“When you start working on your laptop during the kids bedtime routine, I feel alone and more stressed.”
“When you talk to the client before telling me, I feel caught off guard.”
2. Outline the boundary or make a request:
“I need you to…“
Example: “I need you to stop making comments about my weight”, “I need you to respect my privacy”
or “Could you please_________”
Example: “Could you please keep negative comments to yourself?”, “Could you please help me with the kids every night before you start working on your laptop?”)
or “I would appreciate it if _____________”
Example: “I would appreciate if you could ask me how long it would take before setting the deadline with the client.”
3. In some situations, you may need to state a consequence:
“If you continue to ______ (the behaviour), I will ______________ (your plan to protect the boundary)”
Example: “If you continue to speak negatively about me in public, I will remove myself and leave the room.”
Things to keep in mind when setting boundaries
- Be short but specific when describing the behaviour, leaving little room for interpretation. Use simple language and don’t over-explain yourself.
- Use a neutral, respectful, and firm tone
- Avoid blaming or criticizing statements (“You” statements)
- You are not responsible for how others react towards your boundaries
- If there is an unpleasant reaction, remind yourself the other person is entitled to how they feel and try not to take it personally
- Follow through with your boundaries and back up your words with action; if you are not feeling ready to act on a consequence, don’t put it out there until you are
- Expect that you will have to reinforce your boundaries and be prepared for pushback
- If you’re not sure about what your boundaries are in the first place, you may need to work on building self-awareness and understanding your priorities. Connecting with a therapist can help. They will help you gain clarity on what your limits are and why and get support in strengthening your boundary criteria for different areas of your life.
How to say no
Sometimes we just need to say no in simple terms, without identifying the emotion. Here are 6 ways to do it.
1. Polite refusal: Be gracious yet firm
Example: “No thank you. I prefer not to.”
2. Insistence: Emphasize your position with strength
Example: “No, I feel really strongly about changing the direction of this project.”
3. Be a Broken Record: Repeat the same sentence over and over.
Example: “No, thank you, I won’t be joining you all tonight”; “No, thanks, I won’t be joining you tonight”; “No thanks, have fun, I won’t be joining you all tonight…”
4. Partial honesty. If you don’t feel safe enough to be fully assertive, provide a version of the truth
Example: “I’m not able to come out tonight because I made other plans.”
5. Full honesty: Be 100% direct
Example: “No, I’m not interested.”
6. Buy yourself time: If you’re unsure of your position and don’t want to answer yet, ask for time.
Example: “I’ll have to think about that one and get back to you tomorrow.”
At the end of the day, setting boundaries is really about taking care of yourself and honouring your self-worth. You deserve to be heard!
It seems like it’s become harder and harder to date. Dating articles range from “why did they ghost me?” to “why are they all hot and cold?” These behaviours are all marvels that are becoming more common as a result of the online dating and app world.
In this day and age, not only do we have multiple options, we also have to search through those multiple profiles, go on multiple dates, have multiple chats and potential connections, and possibly go through multiple break-ups in order to get to be with someone (that is, if monogamy and serious relationships are your thing). Just thinking about all of this and typing it makes me exhausted!
So, how on earth can we make sense of this messy online dating and app scene?
Think about the following, always with your own needs as your true compass:
- What do I want when it comes to dating? Do you want something casual, to see how things develop, a serious relationship, marriage?
- What do I want in a relationship? Would you be okay with long distance, for example?
- What do I need from a partner? For example: kind, thoughtful, considerate, attentive, etc.
- What are my boundaries? What behaviours am I not okay with?
- What is my gut saying about what’s going on? If it doesn’t feel right, check it out. If it still doesn’t feel right, consider saying no to this relationship.
At the end of the day, only you will know what works for you. By being your authentic self, others who appreciate who you really are will take notice. It’s more than enough to give.
If you have questions on how to further explore and understand your relationships, it can also be helpful to explore this with a therapist.
Who wouldn’t want more confidence?
Unless you’re Beyonce, chances are that you’re among the majority of people who wish that they were more confident in themselves.
How do you define confidence and where does it come from?
Confidence is a trust in your ability to handle what life throws your way. It’s a belief that you can walk into any situation and come out okay.
Some falsely believe that those who have confidence have always had it and those who don’t, never will. That’s just not true. Much like a plant, confidence is something that must be grown and nurtured, cultivated and harvested. Even if you don’t identify as someone who is “naturally” confident, you do possess the ability to grow it.
Another misconception is the assumption that confidence comes from being good at things. Of course, it’s easy to feel confident when doing things you’re good at, but that’s not what builds confidence. Instead, confidence comes from embracing vulnerability and having the patience to work through things that you’re not immediately good at. The ability to push yourself outside of your comfort zone is vital to the development of confidence.
Sowing the seeds
If you had a greenhouse to grow your confidence, challenge and adversity would be the seeds. Confidence doesn’t grow without embracing either of those.
If you spend your days performing high-level tasks that don’t challenge you, it’s hard to achieve the surge in confidence that you get when learning to function outside of your comfort zone. If you really feel like you could use a confidence boost, know that you will have to decide to integrate challenge and difficulty into your life. Something that is objectively difficult won’t give you the results you want either. The challenge you settle on has to be something that is uniquely difficult for you.
Watering the plants
Just like when planting the seeds of challenge and adversity, there is a balance to be found in watering them. You have to be mindful of the amount and frequency that you’re doing it.
It’s important not to pick the absolute biggest challenge you can think of in the hopes that it will have a big confidence payoff. The scarier the challenge, the more unpleasant and distressing it will be. You don’t want to pick something so challenging and distressing that you are likely to give up before you’ve made it to the payoff. Doing so will have the opposite effect and erode your confidence.
The trick is to find something challenging enough that you’re outside your comfort zone but not so difficult that you’re completely overwhelmed. Allow yourself the opportunity to get better bit-by-bit.
The challenge also has to be something that you are able to practice and do with some regularity. I’d say once per week is the minimum amount of time that you should strive for.
As an example, if you decide that you want to be more comfortable talking to people at parties, but you only go to a party once every three months, you won’t build up the tolerance and comfort required to get to that point.
A more effective way to work through this challenge would be to join a group that meets regularly like a Meetup or Toastmasters. If you’re shy at parties, groups like those would put you into a position where you would have to engage with others more often. This frequency would provide enough of a challenge to give you regular practice in speaking with others, that you would eventually get used to it. And with that ease of sparking conversation, you would become more confident in doing so.
Building confidence in certain areas extends beyond the activity you are doing. The more practice you get overcoming challenges and discomfort in various areas of your life, the more you internalize it as a skill that you can transfer to other activities and scenarios that are uncomfortable for you. By doing so, you build up evidence that you are capable of overcoming personal challenges.
Letting the sunshine in
Much like sowing and watering, sunshine is necessary for growth. In terms of confidence-building, sunshine is the vulnerability and humanity you bring to the process. It feels excruciatingly vulnerable to put yourself in situations where you know you won’t be good at something, and to do so knowing you will fumble and be uncomfortable–especially if other people are around to witness it. Unfortunately, there is no solution for the internal alarm bells that go off when you put yourself in a place of intense vulnerability. You just have to take a deep breath and allow those feelings to wash over you.
In these moments, it helps to remind yourself that learning takes time. No one is good at something right away. The truth is, it’s hard to be vulnerability-averse and live a fulfilling, stimulating life. Stepping into vulnerability is stepping into humanity. Stepping into humanity is stepping into feeling more alive.
In developing your self-confidence, find ways to encourage yourself through the initial discomfort of the challenging situation. What self-talk will resonate with you in order to persevere? When I was traveling solo and felt super anxious showing up to hostels by myself I constantly had to say to myself, “This will get easier. You deserve to be here.” Then I took a few deep breaths and went into social and common areas to introduce myself. And eventually, it did get easier. By the end of my trip, I was showing up to new crowds of people with ease and self-assurance.
Who’s perseverance do you admire and could use for inspiration? My biggest heroes are my friends and family members who I’ve seen demonstrate courage in their everyday lives. Because I have a behind-the-scenes look into their lives, I’ve seen them fall down and get back up often. It’s okay to have famous role models of perseverance but we don’t always have a behind-the-scenes look at all that they have stumbled through. When choosing a role model, try to find someone who has a visible track record for overcoming challenges and adversity, not just someone who you only see perform at a high level.
Take some time every day to visualize the challenge and yourself overcoming it. Visualizing a task activates the same parts of the brain that actually completing the task does. This doesn’t mean that you can sit out the activity and bypass the learning process, but it can help you feel better about what lies ahead by showing you the light at the end of the tunnel.
Developing more self-confidence will require you to make the decision to move beyond things you can already do with ease. If you’re looking to boost your confidence, a good place to begin would be to ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you playing it too safe to feel like you can grow your confidence?
- Is there something you’ve always wanted to feel more comfortable doing?
- What’s the most introductory level of that activity that could put you in a zone of discomfort big enough for growth, but not so big it chases you away?
If you were waiting for a sign to get out of your comfort zone, maybe this it. The final piece is the knowledge that the greenhouse where your confidence grows is built with compassion and kindness for self. Give yourself permission to be human in this process. Greenhouses are built entirely with windows so the light and warmth can get in. Self-criticism is the wall that keeps the light out. Give yourself the equipment and environment you need to grow and wonderful things will happen.
Here’s some wisdom from a 32-year-old on a second round as a university student:
It’s really hard.
Not exactly a revelation, I know, but hear me out. Completing assignments, keeping up with readings, and managing time – we all know how challenging this can be. What I want to highlight instead is that the hard work isn’t always the hardest part. For me, trying to figure out how to get to bed early enough, how to wake up and make it to class on time, how to keep my bedroom from looking like a junkyard, and how to resist daily temptations is really hard. While others seem to be worrying about making time for self-care between classes and work, I’m sprinting to class only to find I forgot my notebook. Sometimes it’s the stuff that is supposed to be simple that ends up being really— you guessed it— hard.
It can feel like there isn’t much sympathy out there for those of us who struggle with the day-to-day stuff. If someone hasn’t done laundry in two weeks, it’s easier for people to judge and label them lazy than it is to try to understand why they find it difficult. We’re all guilty of passing quick judgment – and this has its consequences. In my case, people often presume I’m either carefree or careless. A friend told me years back that it seemed like I have no passion. It felt awful to be seen that way. For a decade I almost believed that story about myself. I often felt like a let down, both to myself and to the world. I worried I’d never grow up to be someone I could respect. None of that was true.
The First Round
With that mindset, completing my first degree somehow seemed like both a miracle and barely an accomplishment. I didn’t find the schoolwork very difficult. I loved learning, I made it to class, I paid attention, and for the most part, I got good grades. But I spent the majority of my six years as an undergrad (that’s right, six) procrastinating. I wish I could say I spent all my time partying and enjoying myself. Mostly I agonized about how much work I had to do instead of just doing it, or I beat myself up because I didn’t feel I was trying hard enough. I knew what I needed to do, I just couldn’t seem to do it. I always felt like I could do better, or like I never gave it all I had. At graduation I knew I was smart enough to be handed that degree but somehow I felt like I hadn’t earned it. Now upon reflection, I see I gave it everything I had at the time. I earned that degree Sinatra-style— I did it my way.
We rarely hear this sort of student story. Ever notice in the movies how college students always look like they’re having the greatest time of their lives? They’re winning trophies, getting laid, and going on spring break holidays. How do they make time to have all this fun? They’re never studying, working their asses off to afford tuition, or staying in because they can’t afford to party. The message is that our college years are supposed to be all fun all the time. I’ve done it twice now, and I call bullshit! If you can relate, you’re not alone. I’d say we’re the silent majority.
The Second Round
This time it’s different. The same simple stuff I found difficult ten years ago is still hard and it probably won’t ever be easy for me. I have grown though. I’ve slowly adopted some better life skills (so much more to go), a lot of patience with myself, and the pièce de résistance, I’ve developed a who-gives-a-shit swagger – a gift of confidence that seemed to arrive right around the time I turned 30. Much to my partner’s chagrin, my room is still a pig stye, and I still struggle to hand papers in on time. But my world isn’t collapsing around me. I’m imperfect, and that’s fine. There are a lot of us!
These days I juggle a job, classes and a co-op position. I never thought I’d be able to do that much at once. For the first time in my adult life, people say, “Wow! That must be so hard to manage!” about my life. The irony is, in a lot of ways, it used to be harder. It’s harder to wake up in the morning when you have three or four chapters to read on your own time, two assignments due in a week, and instead of doing any homework the night before, you smoked a joint with your roommate and stayed up watching cartoons. That is stressful. That life is never free from the anxiety of having too much shit to do. Now, waking up groggy to get to my co-op placement after a late night at work is easy in comparison. It would be even easier if I could just decide to go to bed earlier, but at least I have a better excuse for being late.
Each of us struggles with different aspects of the transition into adulthood. Moving toward my mid-30s now, I realize that the development period is actually never finished. You never wake up to find you’re all done building yourself. But you do get better at it.
I wanted to write all this because I wish people had recognized and acknowledged ten years ago that even when I didn’t look like it, I really cared. To everyone living in that eternal awkward phase, I’m right there with you. I know you care. Keep at it and take all the time you need.
Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that can reveal themselves in not-so-obvious ways. We have created a list of some of the things to look out for to see if you might be struggling with an eating disorder.
You’re obsessed with counting calories
You look at the fat and calorie content of everything and you might even have nutritional information memorized because you’ve been doing this for so long. You set a calorie limit for yourself and won’t allow yourself to go over that amount. You might not even eat something unless you know the exact amount of calories the food has, and you like to keep track of how many calories and fat you’re consuming by recording it.
You eat in secret and avoid social situations that involve food
You are embarrassed to eat in front of others because you think they are judging you for what and how much you’re eating. You may avoid social activities altogether because you either don’t want to let on that you aren’t eating enough, or you’re afraid you’ll lose control over the amount of food you’ll end up eating. Buffets especially can be a nightmare.
You eat a lot all at once
You feel out of control because you can’t stop yourself from eating too much food all in one sitting, even when you’re not hungry. You notice you’re not even enjoying the food you’re eating because you are eating it quickly. You have intense feelings of regret, shame, and guilt after eating so much and might even try to compensate for the excessive food intake by skipping meals, exercising, or throwing up.
You weigh yourself constantly
You weigh yourself multiple times a day and base what your next meal will be on how much you weigh. You find the number you see on the scale can really affect your mood and how much you will allow yourself to eat that day.
You cook elaborate meals (for others, not yourself)
You obsess over cookbooks and cooking recipes. You enjoy cooking elaborate meals for others but do not eat them yourself and get great satisfaction watching others eat the food you make, almost living vicariously through them.
You freak out if you can’t exercise
Exercising becomes an obsessive ritual. You plan your day around exercising, set exercising goals (i.e., hours you spend at the gym, kilometres you have to run), and become anxious when you miss a day of exercise or aren’t able to reach the exercising goal you had set out to do. To compensate for the missed exercise, you might begin to limit your food intake to account for the fact that you didn’t burn off as many calories as you would have liked that day.
You engage in negative self-talk about your body
You constantly call yourself “fat” and can spend hours in front of a mirror, sizing up every detail about your body and perceived flaw. You have become overly critical of yourself and engage in regular body shaming episodes. This negative self-talk might also be affecting your mood and desire to go out with friends. You isolate yourself and this can intensify the above behaviours!
If you or someone you know might be struggling with an eating disorder, you are not alone and there is help available.