In a previous post on self-compassion for skeptics I talked about some common objections we often have with the idea of self-compassion. I discussed why we are typically more productive and, well, happier when we are practicing self-compassion, rather than self-criticism.
But for most of us, even if we can get past some of those mental hurtles and are convinced it’s a good concept to practice, it’s a bit of a stretch to expect that after a lifetime of beating ourselves up, we could adopt an attitude of kindness and understand towards ourselves. It’s too unfamiliar. We might not think we deserve it. So lately with clients, I’ve been encouraging at attitude of “self-neutrality.”
This idea came to me as I was thinking about the body positive movement. This movement encourages body acceptance at all sizes, colors, shapes, etc. It teaches us we should appreciate and love the bodies we have and practice acceptance of the appearance of others as well. It’s all great in theory, but as this article aptly points out, loving ourselves just as we are is a tall and unrealistic order for many. Striving for body positivity often adds an additional layer of shame when not achieved. In reaction to this tension has arisen the body-neutrality movement. This way of thinking is more along the lines of: “I don’t have a hideous disgusting body. I don’t have a perfect body. I simply have a human body.”
Extending this more balanced way of viewing our bodies to the concept of self-compassion makes sense to me.
In the same way that loathing your body isn’t likely to get you closer to looking the way you want to look, being self-critical of other aspects of yourself (your achievements and your personality) is not likely to motivate you to change into the person you want to be.
In my view, body-neutrality and self-neutrality can also incorporate a sense of gratitude.
Body-neutrality: “Thanks, body, for functioning and allowing me to do things I enjoy and need to do, like walk and digest food.”
Self-neutrality: “Thanks, brain, for continuing to perceive and process all kinds of complex information and for allowing me to contemplate, hold conversations, experience love, do my job, etc.”
Self-neutrality, as opposed to self-compassion or self-criticism encourages you, to let yourself notice your thoughts with pure objectivity and no additional aims. Can you observe and hold with some impartialness and curiosity the voice of your inner critic? Can you treat your brain and its constant chatter as simply a human brain?
So try it on. If you can’t quite get fully on board with self-compassion in moments of struggle, work towards an attitude of observation and neutrality. You don’t have to shower yourself with love and acceptance and compassion, but see what happens when you ease off the useless self-criticism and judgment. Opt for neutrality towards yourself, while you’re on the path to eventual compassion.