“You’re so stupid.”
“You can’t do anything right.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
Our inner critic takes every opportunity to speak up and rarely listens to whispers like, “go away” or “mistakes are human”. We assume that torturing ourselves with criticizing statements somehow safeguards us against future mistakes, pain, or rejection, and actually motivates us to do better. This is what I call, nicely wrapped self-sabotaging behavior. Being too self-critical doesn’t motivate us, nor does it spur us into action, but leaves us feeling drained and fills our mind with negative thoughts that lead us to hold back and steer away from our true goals.
In fact, research has shown that self-criticism increases rumination and procrastination, and impedes progress toward goals. It’s like a temporary bandaid on a permanent wound. It may work in the short-term, but the long-term effects can be corrosive to our self-esteem and faith in our ability to change and move forward towards our goals.
So what can we do about this? The solution to self-criticism is actually pretty straightforward yet difficult – start loving ourselves more.
The opposite of being self-critical is practicing self-compassion. According to self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, Ph.D, people who are compassionate to themselves are much more likely to be resilient, happy and optimistic about the future. In her book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, Neff wrote: “Being self-compassionate means that whether you win or lose, surpass your sky-high expectations or fall short, you still extend the same kindness and sympathy toward yourself, just like you would a good friend.”
But what does self-compassion really mean? According to Kristin Neff, cultivating self-compassion centers around three areas:
- Self-kindness: Being caring and understanding with ourselves in instances of pain and suffering.
- Mindfulness: Taking a balanced approach to our feelings in which they are observed without trying to suppress, ignore or deny them.
- A sense of common humanity: Recognizing that making mistakes, pain and suffering is part of the human experience.
And the good news is that all three of these areas can be developed and improved over time. Below are some steps to awakening your self-compassion.
Notice your feelings.
The first step in cultivating self-compassion is to develop empathy for your own feelings and recognize your own suffering. Take a moment to turn inward and notice your feelings, instead of avoiding them or pushing them away. This helps you feel more connected with yourself.
Recognize the universality of your feelings.
It’s easy to convince yourself of the uniqueness of your feelings and experiences, but disappointment, shame, rejection, fear, mistakes and anger are all shared experiences and feelings. Every human being has experienced them at some point in their lives. The key is to take a step back and recognize the universality of your struggle. This helps you feel connected and feel part of something bigger than just yourself.
Accept the present moment.
Instead of criticizing yourself for having negative feelings or experiencing difficult situations, tell yourself that it’s perfectly human and accept the moment to be just as it is. Acceptance doesn’t mean making things ‘right’, but it just means you choose to love and embrace ‘what is’, and trust that everything is unfolding as it’s meant to.
Be gentle with yourself.
Now it’s time to treat your feelings and yourself with compassion, just like you’d treat a good friend or loved one. Soothe and comfort yourself by giving yourself a hug or simply putting your hand on your heart. This is a way of reminding yourself that you matter and care about yourself.
When you suffer, it’s tempting to try and suppress or avoid negative feelings and emotions. The opposite of avoiding and suppressing feelings is practicing mindfulness. This means consciously bringing your attention inwards. Feeling, noticing and observing what is unfolding in your inner world, without judgment and without trying to make things right.
Failures, mistakes, pain and suffering are inevitable in life. If you practice self-compassion, pain and negative feelings become less of a burden.
You realize that everything you’re experiencing is temporary and you allow yourself to welcome all your feelings with an open heart, thereby building your emotional resilience in the face of adversity, and opening the door to love, dreams and healing; to life.