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Change Self-Criticism into Self-Compassion

change self-criticism into self-compassion

If It’s Not Okay to Say It to Someone Else, It’s Not Okay to Say It to Yourself

Adapted from Out of Love: Finding Your Way Back to Self-Compassion
by Marianne Ingheim


One of the core goals of practicing self-compassion is learning how to treat yourself with the same kindness you treat others.

Notice your self-talk

Many of us say things to ourselves that we’d never say to anyone else! In a French Dove commercial, women were asked to write down the random thoughts they had about themselves throughout the day. These thoughts were then turned into lines in a script for two actresses posing as guests in a coffee shop. The original women were invited to the coffee shop to hear their own harsh words spoken out loud, words like:

“You’re fat and ordinary.”

“Sit up straight, otherwise your belly looks big.”

“Don’t you feel horrible right now with those large thighs and your horse’s hips?”

People in the coffee shop, overhearing the conversation between the actresses, were shocked. “Excuse me,” one woman said. “That’s really violent what you’re saying to her.”

It was violent. And it’s what many of us do to ourselves every day. Our inner critic is a bully. It criticizes everything about us, not only our appearance, though that is one of its favorite areas to criticize.

Often our self-criticism is unconscious, so we must first catch ourselves thinking these thoughts. Then we can begin replacing them with positive ones through the practice of self-compassion.

Change strategies

  • For the next week, notice when you’re being self-critical or feeling bad about yourself. Write down what your inner critic is saying as accurately as possible. What are the actual words you use to talk to yourself?
  • What are the areas in which you are critical of yourself? I beat myself up over . . .

What is self-compassion?

The next step is to replace the critical self-talk with self-compassion. What exactly is self-compassion? Researcher Kristin Neff, Ph.D. defines it as containing three elements: self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity.

  • Self-kindness means being gentle with ourselves rather than harsh, accepting rather than judgmental. It has to do with our self-talk, self-care, and self-soothing.
  • Mindfulness means holding our experience in accepting awareness, without resistance or attachment. We don’t try to avoid our pain, and neither do we let it define us.
  • Common humanity means connecting with other people through our shared experience of suffering rather than isolating ourselves. When we recognize that suffering is simply part of our common humanity, we feel less alone, and the suffering feels less intense.

When we speak to ourselves self-compassionately, we do so in a non-judgmental, supportive way, mindful of what is true for us in the moment, and recognizing that we are not alone in our suffering.

Change strategies

Here are two exercises for changing our self-talk:

  • Reframe your self-talk when you catch yourself being critical.

Self-critical: I suck at finishing things.

Reframe: I may not always have been good at finishing things, but I’m getting better at it.

  • Reframe your self-talk by looking at the facts. You can use 3×5 cards and put the critical statement on one side and the facts on the reverse.

Self-critical: I never finish anything.

Facts: I finished washing the dishes today.

The bottom line is this: if it’s not acceptable to say to someone else, it’s not acceptable to say to yourself.


When you’re stressed, you need more self-compassion

When we’re stressed—and who among us isn’t stressed right now?—it’s especially important to be self-compassionate. We can notice what we’re feeling, validate that feeling, and soothe the feeling.

  1. Notice how you feel. (I’m feeling sad.)
  2. Validate the feeling. (It’s okay to feel sad.)
  3. Soothe the feeling. (I’m here for you. This is temporary. What do you need right now?)

 As we navigate the uncertainty of Covid-19, let’s remember to be kind to ourselves. We’re doing the best we can, and that’s good enough. Really, it is.




About the author: Marianne Ingheim is a Danish-Norwegian American writer, teacher, and Ph.D. student at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and stepson. Out of Love: Finding Your Way Back to Self-Compassion is her first book.






©2020 Marianne Ingheim. Used with permission.

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash.

Change Self-Criticism into Self-Compassion

Sharon Martin, LCSW

Sharon Martin is a licensed psychotherapist and codependency expert practicing in San Jose, CA. She is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance and several ebooks including Navigating the Codependency Maze.  

To learn more, visit Sharon's website. And please sign-up for free access to her resource library HERE (worksheets, tips, meditations, and resources for healing codependency, perfectionism, anxiety and more).

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APA Reference
Martin, S. (2020). Change Self-Criticism into Self-Compassion. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 May 2020
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