Turning Self-Judgment into Self-Compassion

Posted on June 12th, 2013 by in Conscious Living

Over the last four and a half years, my life has literally turned upside down. After 18 years together, my husband and I sadly parted ways. While I’d lived on the East Coast my entire adult life, it no longer felt right to be there after our split.  And so, a few years after the dust had settled, I moved to Los Angeles, a place where I neither had work nor knew many people. In so doing, I moved away from the man I’d been involved with for three years after my husband and I split—someone I love deeply but with whom I’m not compatible enough to build a life.

A few months back, I was on a date with a guy who didn’t appeal to me, but something he said struck me. “Wow,” he remarked. “You’re starting your life over geographically, professionally, and romantically. And you’re doing it all at the same time. That’s a lot.”

You’re telling me. Suffice it to say that I’ve been dealing with more than my share of stress over the last few years. That’s why I’m particularly interested in Dr. Susan Lord’s tips for managing stress. An integrative family physician and an expert in mind-body medicine, Dr. Lord says mindfulness is the key to stress reduction.

I’m not going to give away all of Dr. Lord’s steps of mindfulness living, but I can tell you that if I could master the last one on her list, it would probably change my life—and, without question, substantially reduce my stress. What is it? Stop judging yourself.

I don’t know about you, but I’m quite sure that the self-talk going on in my head about my life circumstances probably causes me more stress than the circumstances themselves. It’s been a really tough few years and instead of having compassion for myself and the difficulties I’m experiencing out here on my own, I often judge where I’m at. Whether it’s my feelings about my work, my income, my body, my ability to make friends, or my ability to find love, I can be one harsh critic. And as my self-judgment intensifies, my stress does, too. They go hand in hand.

So I’m going to try an experiment, and maybe it’ll appeal to you. The next time I catch myself berating myself for what I haven’t yet accomplished, I’m going to say aloud, “Cancel that.” And I’m going to make a concerted effort to turn my self-judgment into self-compassion.

What would it feel like to be kind to myself, to praise myself for all the strides I’ve made—for the courage it took to leave the familiar and venture into the unknown alone? What would it feel like to say, “Look at you. Look at the work you’ve found, the friends you’ve made, the home you’ve created. You may not be where you imagined you’d be at this age, but look at what you’ve been able to do in the midst of some turbulent emotional times. Look at how resilient you are. Look at how resourceful you are. Look at how amazing you are. Stop, Portland, and look. And breathe. And pat yourself on the back. You’re doing okay.”

If I could do that—if you could do that, if we all could do that—the world would be a gentler place, reflecting back to us the gentleness we show ourselves.



About Portland Helmich

Portland is the creator, host, and producer of the Kripalu Perspectives podcast series. She's also is the creator, host, and executive producer of What’s the Alternative?, a series of 52 half-hour talk shows about natural and alternative forms of healing the body-mind that aired on Veria Living TV, a natural health channel on DISH, FiOS, and Frontier. For more than 15 years, Portland’s been investigating natural health and healing as a host, reporter, writer, and producer. She's been an alternative medicine correspondent for Oxygen, a health reporter for The American Consumer on PBS, and was the creator, host, and executive producer of Journeys Into Healing on Wisdom Television. She produced for HealthWeek and Healing Quest on PBS, has done natural-health reporting for WGBH-TV, and was a medical producer for WCVB-TV (Boston’s ABC News affiliate). She’s also covered the subject as a freelance writer for Body + Soul, Alternative Medicine, and Spa magazines. Portland currently lives in Boston, where she produces documentaries and also works as an actor and voice-over talent.

10 Responses to “Turning Self-Judgment into Self-Compassion”

  1. DrK Run Fitness June 13, 2013 9:56 am #

    I can relate to much of what you are saying. I applaud you following your soul’s path, and honoring your intuition — especially when logic and ego and intellect literally SCREAM at us to do the opposite. I do a lot of work myself on Self-Love, Trust, and Compassion… without which, I am lost. Ellen Smoak and Christine Arylo have been very helpful to me… keeping my heart open, and making me aware of all the love that’s around me…

    • Portland Helmich
      Portland June 13, 2013 11:52 am #

      Thank you for your comment. Really appreciate it. It’s so true that logic and ego scream at us to ignore intuition. Something I’m working on right now — how to know whether my intuition is speaking to me or my ego / fear. Thanks again for your comments.

  2. acewired June 13, 2013 11:38 am #

    There is a method that I have practiced since late 2004. It is amazing how it has eliminated stress from my life. Here are the steps: 1) Locate in your body where you manifest stress – give yourself permission to actually acknowledge the “feeling” – some “feel” it in their head or necks or stomachs. 2) There are no correct answers to the next steps; ask yourself – Can I let go of this feeling? Yes or No. 3) If not. When? 4) If so, When? The answer does not matter because at the moment you ask you break the connection between that feeling and your awareness. With that you will automatically reduce your stress. I’ve practiced this without fail and I am a testimony to how life can change dramatically. Your life is now open to this practice – but, it is a daily practice. If you resort back to old habits and do not practice this – change will not occur. Here is a wish for you to make for yourself. “The pure white light of the source surrounds me. Only good shall come to me and only good shall come from me. I am in the Light. The Light is in me. The Light is me. For this I give great thanks, aho.

    • Portland Helmich
      Portland June 13, 2013 11:55 am #

      So lovely and so helpful. Thank you. I’ve done some work with the Rubenfeld Synergy Method on locating feelings in the body and letting them go through breath and intention. Powerful stuff, but even better to be able to localize feelings ourselves and let them go. It just takes practice, I’m sure. And thank you for the “wish.” :-)

    • KripaluEditor June 13, 2013 12:08 pm #

      Thanks, acewired! Useful practice! We appreciate your taking the time to comment!

      -Kim from Kripalu

  3. Maryann June 13, 2013 2:21 pm #

    Thanks so much for sharing this. It has been my pattern for far too long to constantly criticize myself for everything I do and never own my strength or accomplishments. It makes for a very unsatisfying life. I hope you continue to find your heart felt desires and embrace and own strengths and achievements. Learning to pat ourselves on the back instead of knocking ourselves down can only lead to great things and satisfaction for what is.

    • Portland Helmich
      Portland June 13, 2013 3:52 pm #

      I’m glad the post struck a chord — and I appreciate your wishes. Thank you. The same in return. May you pat yourself on the back more often, too. :-)

  4. CindyYantis June 17, 2013 12:41 am #

    Great article! This is helpful for me too. I’ve had so many judges in my head that they’ve formed a bench from which they’ve handed their many judgments. It’s a wonderful reminder to focus on, appreciate, value and have gratitude for all of the great things that have happened and continue to happen. Every day. I practice this self-love meditation as often as possible and surrender my ideas about what things are supposed to look like over to the universe so that I’m guided toward my authentic self. A self without judgment. Good luck with your “cancel that” experiment. I hope your divine right path continues to unfold… without judgment!

    • Portland Helmich
      Portland June 17, 2013 6:59 pm #


      Thank you so much for what you wrote. I think when I’m feeling down, a good part of the reason is that my reality isn’t reflecting what I think my life is supposed to look like. Surrendering and letting go of judgment are key if someone like me is going to develop a happier life, if I’m going to be a happier me. Thanks for reminding me that it’s possible by example. :-)

  5. Kim Childs
    Kim Childs June 29, 2013 1:32 pm #

    Wonderful, Portland – I’ve followed a similar path in many ways, including the media background, and my unconventional choices have resulted in a life without a lot of external “stuff” to show for it. I, too. will practice stopping those self-berating thoughts, too. As Byron Katie asks, “Who would you be without that (self-hating) thought?” Answer? A proud, self-affirming person with the energy and motivation to keep following my heart.

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