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Why we’re so much harder on ourselves than on others (and how to change that)

Why we’re so much harder on ourselves than on others (and how to change that)

If your child does something wrong, it feels as if you are the one who’s failing. But if you are able to look at yourself just as compassionately as you look at others, it benefits your child too.

It was just another morning. While biking to school, my eight-year old was on the sidewalk. From the bicycle path, I instruct him: ‘You see that car?’ He sees it, rides alongside it and… gets in front of it. I yell a cuss word from my bike. Several parents we know turn their heads and look at me. I blush. I bike towards my son and yell: ‘What was that?!’ ‘The direction indicator light was on!’ he says, his eyes open wide. ‘But you saw it heading towards you, right?’ ‘But the light was on!’ He starts crying. He’s startled, of course, and so am I. But now, we have to hurry to get to school in time. I drop them off, still feeling the stress inside my body.

I have zero patience for this

I feel agitated. Right, and now I have to relax at my class? I hurry to get there. We start with a body scan – we have to lie down and follow our own body, from toe to head, to see where we feel tension. I have zero patience for this. I lie down and listen to the voice that tells me I should feel the toes on my left foot. For some reason, I don’t fall asleep. Slowly, we check the entire body, and once I get to my head, I notice I don’t feel anything in my body anymore. Nothing. No arms, no legs, but most surprisingly: no stress! Just a minute ago, I felt a tension in my breast, but right now, I feel emptiness. It is literally a relief. So that’s what thoughts can do to you: they cause fear, convulsion. Interestingly, relaxing can make all that go away. It might sound logical, but for me it’s a true insight. Now all I have to do is integrate it into my daily routine…

Compassion for… yourself!

We visualise a situation: it’s morning and you just dropped your kid off at school. You see a mother running up to you. Clearly, she has been crying and her angry kid is running after her, yelling. How do you respond? It’s funny how the people at my class react. One of them says: oh, that annoys me so much, one of those people who are always late. I hold my tongue. During the visualisation, I identified with the woman. That was me. After a while, tough, I managed to find some distance. I became the both of them: the observer and the victim. I was able to put my arm around myself. In the end, that’s what it’s all about: experiencing emotions and being friendly towards them. Why feel compassion for someone else, but not for yourself? I think of a beautiful zen koan that I read a while ago:

What’s the sound of one hand clapping?

The sound of a hand clapping is the sound of a hand clapping.

What’s the sound of a child that’s misbehaving?

The sound of a child misbehaving is the sound of a child misbehaving.

What’s the sound of my child misbehaving?

The sound of my child misbehaving is the sound of my failure, of ‘I can’t do this’, of ‘I’m a bad parent…’

One to think about.

How to get through the week mindfully

*Practice a routine activity with attention, together with your child. Reading them a story, brushing teeth, putting them to bed, waking them up, washing their hair, whatever you want.

*Do a breathing meditation each day. This means sitting down and focusing on your breath for ten minutes, on the rising and dropping of your stomach. There are no demands you have to meet, you don’t have to control anything. When thoughts pass, be kind: there’s nothing wrong with the thought, it’s just how the mind works. Quietly lead your attention back to your breath, until ten minutes have passed.

*This is a fun one: get a diary for happy moments. Every day, you write down something that made you happy. Probably, these are small things: someone’s smile, a good cup of coffee, listening to a child’s explanation about their drawing. Writing them down makes you aware of thoughts, emotions and feelings around a happy situation. I use it as a question at dinnertime. Asking my children what made them laugh today, what made them happy or what the best moment in the day was, I dodge the routine question ‘what did you do today’ – one that I hardly ever got an answer to anyway.

Text: Nicole van Borkulo – Photo: Camila Cordeiro

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