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Are you too harsh on yourself?

Modern culture places significant emphasis on being kind to others but not so much ourselves. When we make a mistake, we often hear a harsh, critical inner voice telling us something like - “You’re not good enough” or “You’re so stupid.” Maybe you don’t even realize your inner voice telling you all these negative things, but we would never use such belittling and harsh language when talking to a close friend, or even a stranger. So, why do we talk to ourselves in this way? There are many reasons why we might develop a harsh, critical inner voice. However it might have developed, the good news is there are ways we can combat some of it’s negative influence with self-compassion.

What is self-compassion?

Let’s consider what it means to be compassionate towards others: Compassion is the ability to recognize the experience of suffering in others with the desire to lessen that suffering. Compassion is when you pause for a moment to consider how difficult life must be for that homeless woman you rush past every day. So self-compassion is simply compassion directed inward and treating yourself with the same kindness and care that you would extend to someone you love. According to self-compassion researcher, Kristen Neff, self-compassion is comprised of three components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness is practicing understanding and warmth to ourselves when we fail or make a mistake. Common humanity is recognizing the universality of suffering and setbacks as a part of life. Lastly, mindfulness entails observing our emotions and thoughts not from a judgmental perspective but from a place of curiosity and understanding.

How to start practicing self-compassion

  • Awareness

The first step is noticing, without judgement, any self-critical thoughts you might be having. It is important that you don’t beat yourself up for having these thoughts. Instead, trying just letting these thoughts and emotions come and go like waves in the ocean. Try not to label your emotions and thoughts as “good” or “bad,” just notice their presence. Noticing these self-critical thoughts is the first step to help you change your relationship to these thoughts so that they can have less influence on you.

  • Acknowledge Common Humanity

The next step is to practice common humanity in the form of acknowledging that everyone has experienced a setback, made a mistake, or fallen short of his/her goals. Failures, setbacks, and mistakes are part of the human experience and without them life would lack meaning and promote growth.

  • Practice responding to yourself with kindness

A vital step in becoming more self-compassionate is practicing responding to yourself with kindness, not only through words but also with actions. Start by trying to combat any self-critical thoughts with more compassionate thoughts. See below for an example.

Inner critic: For example, when you have the thought, “You’re so lazy. You are leaving the house a wreck and you look a mess.”

Try replacing that thought with….

Compassionate Voice: I’m sorry you are feeling so badly about yourself today. It's perfectly understandable given that you are feeling stressed about fighting with your boyfriend and your body is an easy target. You are not seeing yourself accurately. Even so, your appearance is really the least interesting thing about you. You deserve to be able to go out and enjoy a fun day with your friends no matter what you look like. They don't care! They just want to spend time with you.

Coupled with speaking to yourself in a warmer, kinder voice make sure to engage in acts of self-compassion, such as setting boundaries, taking time for self-care, doing kind things for yourself, and getting enough sleep. Remember that self-compassion is a skill that takes practice to become a more automatic way of responding to yourself. Keeping that in mind, try not to be critical of yourself and instead remember to treat yourself with the same kindness and care that you give to the people you love.

Original article by Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C