Original Posted March 2023 INTEGRIS Mental Health
Grace. You know it when you receive it and you know when you give it. You forget to do something important for another person, but instead of being angry or disappointed, they show you unconditional forgiveness, kindness and love. Grace given to us by another person is a marvelous feeling.
Marvelous because 1) it’s a deeply great feeling and 2) because we may marvel that our friend or colleague chose grace, even though it would be reasonable for them to feel anger or disappointment.
Maybe you’re prone to giving grace to others, easily understanding that as human beings we get things wrong even when -- sometimes especially when -- we truly want to get them right. Your toddler drops a red popsicle on your white sofa. Your spouse says something snarky. Your sister forgets your birthday. But you? You remain serene, kind and loving. That’s what giving grace to others looks like.
What does it look like to give yourself grace, though? For many of us, that’s a stickier wicket. Fun fact: Learning to extend grace to yourself is just as important (maybe even more so) than offering grace (AKA slack, a hall pass, a do-over) to others. There’s a saying that goes something like this: treat others the way you would want to be treated. When you allow yourself to give yourself grace, you flip that a little bit: treat yourself as well as you’d treat others.
Giving yourself grace means making the choice to interact with the world – and yourself – with goodwill and kindness. Like any new modus operandi, it will take some practice to get the hang of giving yourself some grace, just like it takes practice to do yoga or run a mile. It’s a trial-and-error process that should be applied to daily life, well, daily.
Another way to frame it? Think of giving grace as giving people (that includes you) the benefit of the doubt. The more grace you give, the better you will feel.
Here are some practical, everyday ways to give yourself some grace.
Practice not being perfect. Perfection is not something we can actually be or achieve. It’s an illusion, a legend, a myth. Perfectionism can be a big obstacle to happiness. Plus, as author and wise woman Brené Brown puts it, “…the truth is that we are actually drawn to people who are real and down-to-earth. We love authenticity and we know that life is messy and imperfect.”
Gratitude. Practice it. There are lots of ways to focus more on gratitude and less on what’s going wrong. Instead of making a nonstop mental to-do list, pause and take stock of the things you have already accomplished, things that are going well or things that went a bit better than you expected them to.
Self-compassion. Inevitably we are harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else, or than anyone else is on us. Go figure. We practice self-compassion when we acknowledge that we are human. Humans are fallible. We’re flawed. We make mistakes. Try treating yourself like you’d treat your very best friend.
Stop scrolling. It’s harder to be easier on ourselves if we are constantly bombarded with images of people with ‘perfect’ lives on social media. We all know what we see on Instagram is not real life, but somehow that doesn’t take the little sting of envy or comparison away. The only way to really get social media out of your head is to put down the phone.
Let it go. Holding onto anger, jealousy or bitterness doesn’t help anyone. When we let things go – or forgive – we are better able to move on. Carrying anger or bitterness around with us is a burden. This doesn’t mean whatever you’re holding onto wasn’t painful or wrong, it just means that you’re not going to continue to hurt yourself with a memory.
Apologize. When you do something wrong or hurt someone’s feelings, take responsibility for your actions and apologize genuinely – with no ‘buts’ or caveats. Doing so will enable everyone to move forward, especially you.
Have a sense of humor. If you can laugh at a situation or event instead of crying, do it. Lots of times we take little things too seriously. Plus, laughter is really good for us! It’s proven to activate and relieve your stress response, ease tension, stimulate your heart and lungs, release endorphins and ease pain. From the Mayo Clinic: Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress begin to fade away. Even if it feels forced at first, practice laughing. It does your body good.
Silence negative self-talk. Negative self-talk is an internal dialogue (or monologue) that distorts reality, sabotages success, limits personal growth and adds unnecessary stress to life. It’s a tough nut to crack, though, especially if it’s become a habit. Try this: start monitoring your inner voice for negative or unkind thoughts such as ‘No one likes me anyway,’ ‘This will never work,’ and so on. When you catch yourself saying these things, replace them with more supportive responses like ‘People are just different from one another,’ ‘How can I make this better,’ and so forth.
Let yourself off the hook. Letting someone off the hook means allowing their crime or transgression go unpunished. We can do it for others and we can do it for ourselves. Did you forget the pasta sauce at the store? Is dinner truly ruined, or is that ‘crime’ something your can allow to go unpunished? Toss that pasta in olive oil and relax!
Still not convinced you should give yourself some grace? Here are some indicators that may indicate otherwise.
You can’t let go. Do you continue to criticize yourself about mistakes even after you’ve corrected them? Even when the mistakes are small or relatively harmless? Maybe even for days?
Self-care always comes last. When was the last time you did something to take care of yourself? Maybe you need new pillows for better sleep but keep putting off buying them; maybe you love massages but haven’t had one in years. If you keep telling yourself you’ll do things for yourself after you knock a few more items off of your to-do list, it’s probably time for some grace.
Extra mile much? Do you go every inch of the extra mile, even when the situation really only requires going half a mile? That’s a great way to deplete yourself. Plus, if you waste your energy on little things, your reserves will be gone when you need them for bigger things.
No slack for you. Do you see other people’s little (or big) mistakes as understandable and forgivable, but not your own? If treating yourself with as much kindness as you treat others seems out of the question, you need to think twice.
There are times when no amount of self-talk and awareness can offer as much help as you might need. If you feel overwhelmed and find it challenging to get through the day without berating yourself and you’ve tried everything you can think of to feel better but can’t quite get there, don’t suffer alone. Call your doctor and explain what’s going on. There are people who can help you. Your mental health is just as important as physical health.