We all talk to ourselves continuously. Most of this “self-talk” isn’t even in our consciousness, but it impacts our feelings, thoughts, and actions; it reflects what we believe about ourselves. In this post, guest writer Dr. Mari Kovanen explains how you can use self-compassion to change your negative self-talk, heal your inner critic, and ultimately create a pathway to a healthier self-image and stronger relationships.
What is your inner critic saying?
“I’m too fat. I’m too tall. I’m not intelligent enough. I’m too serious. I’m not earning enough money.” And the list goes on…
What are the messages that you tell yourself on a daily basis? These types of self-critical statements can be detrimental to your well-being. They put you down and make you feel small, like you’re not even good enough to exist. They are likely to contribute to anxiety and depression or perhaps they cause you to behave in ways that you later regret.
This post is about healing your inner critic with self-compassion, understanding self-compassion, what it is and what it isn’t, and how self-compassion can start to change your relationship with yourself.
The way we treat ourselves is often the result of how we have been treated by others in the past
To end our negative self-talk, we must understand where our inner critic came from. Through interactions with your parents and caregivers in childhood, you develop your sense of self and your self-worth. Perhaps significant adults in your life repeated certain statements or non-verbally communicated in ways that made you feel ashamed, like you weren’t good enough. Often this is due to lack of self-awareness on their part.
On the other hand, witnessing a parent continuously being self-critical or being in a hostile environment can also contribute to developing a punitive inner critic. Children rationalize by thinking “I feel bad; this must mean I am bad”, and they attribute any negative events to themselves. These feelings often remain until adulthood unless there are corrective experiences.
If you carry toxic shame, you may try to control it by having high standards for yourself and being a perfectionist, for example. This may be rewarded at school or work, but it can leave you feeling exhausted, anxious and even depressed in the long run. Repeating self-critical statements as an adult is repeating the shame you experienced earlier, and it is re-shaming. You may feel trapped and continue criticizing yourself for not meeting your unrealistic expectations and standards.
Exercise: Reflect on the origins of your inner critic. Listen to the statements you repeat to yourself, perhaps even write them down, and try to identify where they originate from. If you then identify, for example, a person who used to criticize you, locate where you are carrying this statement in your body and notice what it feels like. Place your hand on that body part. Then imagine yourself ripping the criticism out of your body and handing it back to the person; it belongs to them, not to you. Notice what that feels like for you to hand over the critical statement.
What is self-compassion and how can it heal your inner critic?
Self-compassion is formed of three concepts according to Kristin Neff, Ph.D.
Kindness. Become your own best friend; be understanding and kind to yourself when facing difficulties. It is about understanding that being imperfect, making mistakes and having distress are part of our everyday life. Therefore, it is about showing tolerance and kindness to yourself when you have difficulties rather than further criticizing yourself.
Tip: How would a supportive best friend comfort you when facing difficulties in life?
Common humanity. Self-compassion includes a notion that suffering and having difficulties is a part of being human. None of us are alone with our struggles, because there may be other people nearby having similar difficulties. Therefore, self-compassion is about seeing your suffering as a universal experience.
Mindfulness. Several research studies have suggested that being aware of your feelings and physical experience (emotions are experienced in the body) is beneficial for your well-being. Self-compassion includes being curious and acknowledging your emotions, as they are important messages about your state of well-being and how your needs are being met. An important aspect of becoming aware of your feelings is to simply notice them without judgment or trying to alter them.
Tip: Develop supportive statements that you can repeat to yourself when you have previously criticized yourself. For example, “It is fine to feel X when I experience Y.”
When you practice self-compassion, it takes power away from the inner-critic. It is a process and may take some time to internalize the message of self-compassion fully, but be patient with yourself.
Myths about self-compassion
There are many assumptions about self-compassion that may turn you off from practicing it (Neff, 2017). You may have beliefs, such as:
“I will become selfish and not consider others.” Self-compassion is not about being self-absorbed but saying “I am equal to others and deserve to be treated kindly.”
“If I’m self-compassionate, I will become lazy.” Neff argues that self-compassion allows you to be motivated in a more positive way rather than using punitive self-criticism as a way to drive yourself to results. Also, when you are kind to yourself, you direct all your energy towards your goals rather than wasting it on self-criticism. Driving towards impossible goals and self-criticism is exhausting.
“I will get stuck in self-pity.” Neff suggests that self-compassion is not about being immersed in your difficulties, but accepting that they are a part of our lives. Therefore, self-compassionate people are committed to having happier lives.
Self-compassion transforms shame
Practicing self-compassion can change your world. When you are kind to yourself rather than self-critical, your world becomes a lot more pleasant and enjoyable to be in. Then you can start to flourish not just personally but in your relationships too, as you are not so demanding of yourself and perhaps of others too. Self-compassion encourages you to get to know your most uncomfortable parts and this will create a more peaceful existence, as whatever you experienced as shameful is approached with curiosity and kindness.
If you would like to kick start your self-compassion, sign-up for the 10-day self-care & self-compassion challenge and start to heal your inner self-critic.
About the author
Dr. Mari Kovanen, CPsychol, is a registered counselling psychologist in private practice in London, UK. You can find Dr. Kovanen on Facebook and take part in her free Self-Care & Self-Compassion Challenge by signing up HERE.
Article: ©2017 Mari Kovanen. All rights reserved.