The theme for International Women’s Day 2021 (March 8, 2021) is #ChooseToChallenge. This year, the organization affirms that “a challenged world is an alert world” and asks us to to take action in calling out gender bias and inequality so that we may create a more inclusive world. What a beautiful and necessary mission! But does it feel a little… daunting? How do we do this? What will it take? A foundation of fierce self-compassion is key.

The Balance of Self-Compassion

Some myths about self-compassion tend to be that it is as too soft, passive, even enabling. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a gentle side to self-compassion where we give ourselves the gifts of comforting, soothing, and validation: this is the Yin side of self-compassion. However, in order to effect change in ourselves, our communities, and the world, we cannot stay stuck there. We may need to step out beyond the expectations of stereotypes and balance the Yin with the Yang of Self-Compassion which is action, protection, and motivation.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”

-HH The Dalai lama

Motivating Ourselves with Fierce Self-Compassion

You may have experienced an attempt at motivation through self-criticism. Your inner critic scolds, shames, judges, and blames you. It really does want you to improve, but its voice is harsh, and its methods are counterproductive. We can’t feel free to learn and grow when we are made to feel bad about ourselves.

So how can we motivate ourselves through fierce self-compassion? We can start by not running away from our inner critic or telling it to shut up, but by turning towards it with curiosity. What is our inner critic trying to do? Keep us safe? Help us reach a goal? Our inner critic’s voice is so strong because we are naturally wired to see problems for purposes of survival. If we ignore that voice, it will get louder and louder like a small child with big feelings. In the same way that acknowledging the child and validating their feelings will help them feel safe and calm down, we can turn towards our inner critic and say, “I hear you. Thank you for your message.”

We can then turn our attention to the wise, inner compassionate part of ourselves who sees our problematic behaviors clearly and without judgment. This part of us operates out of love rather than fear. It gives us unconditional love and acceptance. But it is mindful, not complacent, so it also asks, “how can I support you to change?”

You might try writing a letter to yourself from the perspective of this wise, inner compassionate part of you. Choose one behavior that is causing problems in your life, that you criticize yourself and feel badly about. Try writing some words of kindness, constructive phrases, and support in order to evoke change. What would you say to a dear friend who was having this same problem? Then use those words for yourself being mindful of your tone.

The hand gesture for fierce self-compassion, as adapted from Dr. Kristin Neff, is putting one hand on the heart and one hand outwards, indicating “stop!” This allows us to hold ourselves with self-compassion and soothing while setting a healthy boundary. So it’s saying “no” when we mean “no” instead of saying “okay maybe” or “yes” when we are in the people-pleasing mode. If you are struggling to integrate the present, loving kindness with firm boundaries, try this position to get the feel of the balance of fierce self-compassion in your body.

“Remember that if you really want to motivate yourself, love is more powerful than fear”

-Dr. kristin neff

Raising Children with Fierce Self-Compassion

There is a strong correlation between fierce self-compassion and the conscious parenting concept of “kind and firm.” Often parents find themselves tending towards being “too kind” (permissive) or “too firm” (harsh or authoritarian). They may feel that they have to choose one or the other in any given situation, or find themselves bouncing back and forth between the two. Just as in self-compassion, we need both the Yin (kindness) and the Yang (assertiveness) for balance and effectiveness. The key is integration: kindness and assertiveness at the same time. Empathy and boundaries.

Whether we are raising our own children, interacting with other children in our lives, or tending to our inner child, a balance of Yin and Yang – kind and firm – prevents the tug of war between the two and is a far more effective approach.

Photo by Asier