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A Critical Skill for Navigating the Midlife Passage

February '20

For many women, midlife becomes a time of questioning future life plans, leaving you stymied and unable to move forward with any specific decisions for a while. There are, however, some immediate actions you can take with rewarding results. A great way to your own midlife journey of transition is to practice the skill of self-compassion.

Kristin Neff, PhD, teaches and writes about this skill in her book Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. In it, Neff advocates self compassion as an antidote to the self criticism folks seem to engage in so automatically. She describes self-criticism as that negative voice you hear inside your headyour inner critic. Life coaches often call these judgmental voices gremlins.

Neffs first directive is to let go of labeling self criticism as a problem. Instead, she recommends cultivating compassion for your inner critic. This not good enoughvoice comes from a desire to keep you safe, to keep you from being rejected and to help you maintain social relations.

Self criticism arrives when your self concept is threatened. For example, you trip over a chair, and mentally say, you klutz!This judgment is triggered in a flash, unconsciously. As Neff points out, this response means youre attacking yourself in an effort to control yourself.

I have a question for you, how motivating do you find criticism as a way of changing behavior? If youre like most kids and adultsnot much. Instead, Neff advocates self compassion as a way to take care of yourself.

Self awareness lies at the heart of Neffs approach. You need to be aware of your inner critic at worki.e. after you trip over a chair, and mentally say, you klutz,you realize your inner critic just spoke to you.

However, as soon as you become aware of your inner critic at work, your gremlins may continue to work even more furiously. For example, after noticing your self critic just spoke, you may then judge yourself for judging yourself as a klutz. Yikes! Did I say gremlins are tricky?

When you feel threatened in any way that evokes your inner critic, Neff suggests you put your hand on your heart, say to yourself, This is a moment of suffering. This is really hard. Suffering is a way of lifepart of the shared experience. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.

Your comforting and kind words to yourself might differ from Neffs, but you get the idea. Self compassion can be a challenge to learn; its a practice to be developed over time.

Perhaps you already have a practice of self compassion. If so, Id love to hear about it. If not, why not lower your stress level and begin today?

Happy Leap Year day!

PS. If youd like to learn more about how to develop your own personal self-compassion, it’s the Day 1 self-care skill in my book, Midlife Magic: The 7 Day Self-Care Plan to Boost Your Energy and Make You Smile. You can discover more about it here.

P.P.S. This month’s newsletter was adapted from one of earlier years. Self care is so critical, I want to feature it with Neff’s comments again.


  1. Roberta Taylor said on March 1, 2020:

    I tell people to tell themselves what they would tell their best friend in the same circumstance. We are generally kind to our best friend (if we are truly a good friend and not using that person). Once in awhile I do something stupid and I let myself think about it and then I forgive myself for being human, and therefore, imperfect. I try to be my own best friend.

  2. Bonnie said on March 1, 2020:

    Great to hear from you, Roberta! Love your wisdom about your best friend and forgiving yourself. You remind me that Navaho rugs and Persian carpets have deliberate mistakes made in weaving them, because none of us is perfect.

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