Self-Compassion: the Antidote to Self-Criticism

Are you too hard on yourself? Do you constantly criticize yourself even when you make an honest mistake? Quick to put yourself down? Constantly engage in negative self-evaluation that leaves you feeling like you are never good enough?

If we are honest, most of us are much harder on ourselves than on other people. There are many reasons for this. For some people, their inner critic is really the voice of a parent or primary caregiver that was never pleased with them. For others, self-criticism has its root in a demanding boss or teacher. Yet for others, the source may be a coach who was never satisfied with their performance.

However it may have started, self-criticism is insidious and robs people of the joy they were meant to experience. But you do not have to be the casualty of your own verbal attacks. There is an antidote to this agonizing approach to life. The remedy comes in the form of self-compassion. 

Growing Your Self-Compassion

Self-compassion sounds vague so let us provide some handles to this nebulous concept. Self-compassion is really just being kind to yourself instead of being critical or judgmental. To be clear, sometimes self-criticism may be necessary, but we are referring to it when it is unwarranted or out of balance.

Your Thoughts Matter

To increase self-compassion, first, start by noticing your thoughts.

Most people are unaware of their own internal dialogue. We have so many thoughts each day that often we are not even conscious of the thoughts we think toward ourselves. Pay attention to things like whether you are telling yourself that you are going to fail before you even begin, comparing yourself to others, or never feeling good enough. These are all ways that demonstrate being too hard on yourself.

Examining Your Inner Diaglog

Second, once you’re aware of the thought, examine the evidence for it.

Maybe this will surprise you, but just because you have a thought does not make it true. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that we regularly lie to ourselves.

Here is just one example. Let’s say that you constantly tell yourself that you are never good enough no matter how hard you try. Let’s also say that a management position at your company is about to become available, a position for which you are more than qualified. But upon hearing about the position, you immediately think ‘What am I thinking? I’m not good enough. I’ll never get the position,’ therefore you don’t apply for the job.

In this case, your self-criticism cost you an opportunity. Whereas if you had examined the evidence for the thought, you may have realized that you were qualified. A little self-compassion may have motivated you to take a chance rather than immediately pass judgment on yourself and not even try for the position. This is why it’s important that we examine the thoughts we tell ourselves. To do this, you can ask questions like – is the thought helpful? Is there evidence for this thought? What would I tell a friend if he/she had the same thought?

Remove Negative Self-Talk

A third way to practice self-compassion is to ask, what advice would you give a friend in the same situation?

Would you speak to a friend the way that you speak to yourself? Sometimes that inner critic can be downright cruel. It is often easier to be compassionate toward other people than toward ourselves. When you are in a hard situation and doubting your ability or your worth, negative self-talk is not helpful. You might think that it will motivate you, but it actually does just the opposite. Kindness and compassion will go much further in motivating you. In the example above, kindness towards oneself may have made the difference in whether you reached your career goals or not. 

Constant negative self-talk can also impact your mental health. Just consider this. Filling your mind with negative thoughts toward yourself impacts your relationships with others. This can result in feelings of loneliness and isolation. It can lead to depression, anxiety, and feelings of worthlessness.

How you talk to yourself matters. If you find yourself unable to control your negative thoughts towards yourself, consider getting some professional help.

Relief is available and you do not have to live in a self-imposed prison. Call today and schedule an appointment with one of our counselors. 

written by Michelle Shove, PLPC

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