Grappling With Your Inner Critic? Here's How To Practice Self-Compassion
STORY: Si Jie Wang
10 October 2021
We frequently encounter critics who, whether intentionally or not, cause us to feel small and inadequate. And our inner critic is often the worst of the lot. If only I said something different during my presentation. Why can’t I keep up with the pace at work? Everyone seems to be able to do it. I didn’t get the grades that I want, why am I so stupid? Sound familiar? We have the common misconception that critique pushes us to do better. In actual fact, doing so stirs up feelings of self-doubt, anger and anxiety.
What are the benefits of being kind to yourself?
Being kind to yourself reduces stress and puts the body into a state of safety and relaxation. Studies have shown that self-compassion helps improve mental wellness and can motivate you to learn and change for the better. People who practice self-compassion are also known to bounce back from adverse events like relationship breakups, career setbacks and even medical crises.
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion is NOT self-pity or being self-centred in any way. In the same way that you would display compassion to your loved ones by showing care and kindness when they face setbacks, self-compassion involves responding the same way when you experience failure or discover something you dislike about yourself. Rather than ignoring your pain, slow down, acknowledge your it and embrace your inner imperfections.
What does self-compassion look like?
1. Self-kindness: A choice to turn towards yourself with care, love and kindness, rather than ignoring your pain with the “suck it up”, “just tank only” mindset and being overly critical of yourself. Expecting life to be perfect, without failures or challenges results in more emotional suffering as you experience more stress and self-criticism.
2. Mindfulness: Mindfulness allows us to acknowledge the resistance or pain and enables us to embrace the discomfort with greater ease. Pay attention to the present moment by pausing to notice your thoughts, feelings and body sensations. It is the act of not judging how you feel or rush into problem-solving. Ask yourself “what emotion am I feeling right now?”, and name the emotion. Other questions include, “asking what is causing me to feel this way?” and “what am I experiencing right now?”.
3. Common Humanity: Sounds chim, right? but is acknowledging that you are only human and that any form of imperfection or personal inadequacy is just what makes you human. Any personal challenge or setback you encounter is just part of what binds you to the rest of the human population, it is something we all experience rather than something that happens to “you” alone.
So how do we combine those 3 elements and practice self-compassion?
1. How would you treat a friend?
This simple self-exercise requires you to think about how you would treat others or your loved ones going through a difficult or painful situation.
Part 1: Think back of a time when a valued friend or loved one shared with you about a struggle they faced. Perhaps it was multiple failed attempts at their job search or a relationship issue. Ask yourself, what would the best and nicest version of yourself do and say to that person? Think about the tone you would speak in and how you would comfort that loved one. Also, think of what gestures you would do – perhaps offer to buy them a meal or offer a warm embrace.
Part 2: Think about a time you experienced something similar. What words, gestures or actions can do for yourself to feel more supported and accepted? Remember, how you would treat your friend is how you should treat yourself.
2. What do you really want?
This method focuses on how you can use self-compassion instead of self-criticism to motivate yourself in achieving your personal goals. Reflect on the questions and write down your answers!
- Think about a goal that you’ve always wanted to achieve, big or small: a relationship goal, financial goal or even weight loss goal.
- Next, think about how long you have wanted this and how many times you have started and stopped.
- Consider what words, tone and language you used to speak to yourself when working towards this goal.
- How would you describe the way you thought about yourself back then? Would you consider this as positive, negative or encouraging?
- Think back about how you felt when you criticised yourself; did you feel encouraged, uplifted or more deflated. If you felt discouraged or deflated, consider to change the way speak or think about yourself.
- What language or words would you use to motivate you more?
- Think about why it is important to achieve your goal and write encouraging words to yourself focusing on how good they can make you feel.
NTS: Note to Self, when you are too hard on yourself, remember to be kind, remember to motivate yourself, and remember to practice self-compassion. Stay well!