Why you’re so harsh in your most important relationship (And how to handle that so you can get on with succeeding)


(And How To Handle That So You Can Get On With Succeeding Instead)

Which part of that statement has you wondering the most?

What is your most important relationship?  Or if it’s true you’re harsh within it and why?

The most important relationship you have is with you. 

We’re conditioned to hear that as selfish but it’s not. Let it sink in.  Be aware if a pre-conception of selfishness has you wrestling with it. 

Challenge it so you stay open as you read on. 

Psychologists like Kristin Neff, say self-compassion is the healthier way of relating to yourself in the face of setbacks and even the failings we bring on ourselves, than its cousin, self-esteem.  In fact, true narcissism is most connected to self-esteem.   

So, if career or business success is what you strive for, it will serve you to let self-esteem go and try self-compassion instead.


Self-Compassion is best thought of simply as kindness, turned inwards.  It doesn’t depend on other people’s perception of you and isn’t linked to your successes – or failures – in the same way as self-esteem.  So, it’s a more reliable and stable way to relate to yourself.

What does that mean for you? 

I know you wouldn’t deprive a friend of non-judgmental understanding when their career (or life stuff) gets sticky.  You wouldn’t be so harsh when they need you most. You’d be a friend.

You’d sympathise.  You’d empathise too, offering your own vulnerable parallels to give them hope that stuff happens for all of us and reassure them things will get better. 

You might even get on to what they could do to handle the blow and turn things around.

And you know what else is true?  You would not give your kindness a second thought.  Now please hear what I say next because it applies to every single one of us.   


Self-esteem relies on validation from other people and depends on proving ourselves. Again, and again.  Self-esteem is precarious precisely because we must keep accomplishing, to keep it high.  Which is a relentless pressure and inevitably unstable.

And so, the only reliable thing about self-esteem is that it causes much anxiety for those who live life using it as their compass – relying on the approval of others or a constant succession of wins to feel ok.  Living life afraid of failure.  Always. 

It is this unquenchable thirst for self-esteem that explains why we’re all harsh with ourselves about the problems we need to handle. 

We can’t effectively strive for a career redesign we want until we get out of our own way.

Setbacks will come for us all – but with them, learnings that can inform our future vision. 


Next steps worth taking.

Meaningful career chapters waiting to be rewritten.   

But which only motivate our efforts if we see them through the right filter, a growth mindset. As a challenge and an opportunity. 

Not harsh judgement and biting criticism.  Self-esteem triggers these self-conscious emotions. 

Toxic feelings that only exist via our perception of others judging us.  Emotions like guilt and shame and stress and self-doubt. 

All projected.  All teaming up to maintain the status quo, paralyzing us in their negative super-highway before we get close to changing what matters in our efforts to feel fulfilled.

And sometimes, before even letting ourselves try.


Self-esteem relentlessly employs self-comparison.  Too often that’s toxic in itself if we feel we don’t match up to others.  Which means we don’t feel worthy of self-compassion, worthy of success, or love, worthy of happiness.  And when we don’t believe we are worthy, we give up. 

There was a time self-esteem was held up as the ultimate marker of mental health but that has long-since been reconsidered as the damage it brings with it has shown up to be so great.

Although self-esteem’s harsh inner-commentary can offer us powerful protection when things are at their worst, it also blocks us engaging with the very stuff that would get us moving again.  Taking ownership – so we can recover and carry on working for the change we want. And need.

And really that’s the pitfall of self-esteem.  We get horribly stuck defending our self-worth when we would repair quicker if we accepted the set-back instead. 

Hiding from our mis-steps, denying the learnings that could motivate really great solutions.  And all without noticing our paralysis.   “My boss was awful… or I didn’t enjoy that work anyway…time to put the family first…honest, it’s fine”.  Anything sounding familiar?   

Apply a little self-compassion to the same scenarios instead and you’d find yourself less stressed and motivated far earlier to turn your attention and energy to productive next steps.  So ‘your luck’ would change faster too.  


Neff has done much work in this area and offers many (free) research-backed tools to help us understand how to train ourselves in self-kindness.  Her work gives us all hope that we can choose self-compassion for ourselves and if we do, our reward will be that we’re not only happier, more optimistic – but successful too!

Here are 3 key steps to recruiting self-compassion when it matters most:

  1. Remind yourself – Your kindness and support isn’t exclusively for your friends. This means when hard things come up for you, you give yourself permission to accept them.  Apply this to mistakes made, flaws of yours, regrettable outcomes in your career or business – or life.  Accept it all without harsh criticism or judgement.

  1. We’re all human. Hear yourself say that, with a metaphorical shrug-and-hug when you face mistakes made.  They’re just part of being human – we all make them.  They are not a reflection of your self-worth.  You are still ALLOWED  to succeed, be happy and well aligned.  You just took a wrong turn.  
  1. There are so many tools and tips around Mindfulness. Let’s keep it simple here.  Mindfulness just means be aware of your thoughts and feelings.  Particularly as you react to a knock in your career or business when it is acceptable – even important – that others give overt feedback when outcomes aren’t positive.  The pitch lost or business setback.  A fail.

These happenings do not define you as a person.  They’re just happenings. 

Accept that.  Notice your feelings.  And accept them too. 

So-called negative feelings are most valuable when re-interpreted as next steps to be taken. 

That’s why in professional life, feedback is given after all.  To inform future action.  So, acknowledge your feelings, but as incoming information.  Not with harsh judgement. Not as justification for ruminating over and over, what could have gone differently, if….   

There are very many self-compassion tools ‘out there’ and Mindfulness certainly comes up high on the positive psychology toolkit. 

For those who engage in the book or course, you will find I have a firm favourite to prompt self-kindness in my leadership coaching – so those who are being harsh with themselves can get out of their own way and succeed instead.  It is deeply powerful.  Every time. 


P.S. if you think your friends would like this too, I’d love you to share it. Thanks.

Warmly, Helen


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