Do you find yourself constantly picking fault with yourself, from your appearance to your parenting skills If you’ve ever tried to ‘be more positive’, you’ll know that trying to silence your inner critic is hard, I know it was for me. So how do we actually do it? Today’s post will highlight why self-compassion might be the key to taking back the power from your inner critic and show you how to get started.
What is Self-Compassion?
I’m sure you’ve heard the term “self-compassion” a million times, but with the word being thrown around so much these days, do you really know what it means?
When you’re self-compassionate it means that when you fail, make a mistakes or feel inadequate that you aren’t mean and critical of yourself. Instead you show yourself kindness, patience and understanding.
Being self-compassionate is an attitude toward your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It doesn’t mean that you don’t feel the pain and suffering. But you don’t tear yourself down, judge yourself harshly or point out all your flaws.
Sounds good right?
Why is Self-Compassion important?
I’m sure from just getting clear on what self-compassion actually is, that you can see that it’s important. Without self-compassion your inner critic has all the power and makes all of your decisions, on a daily basis.
Your inner critic runs wild without the presence of self-compassion, and when your inner critic is running the show you aren’t able to think rationally or calmly. It’s just not possible and I’m going to explain why in a minute. But, your thoughts will go into negative over drive, your feelings run wild and you’ll react, often not in a way that is helpful to you in that moment.
And being self-compassionate means you support and encourage yourself. You can remind yourself that you’re simply human and like the rest of us you’re not ‘perfect’, so you’re able to bounce back quicker and with more motivation when you face setbacks in life.
Why is it so easy to be Self Critical?
So if self-compassion is so great, why is self-criticism so automatic?
First, let’s be clear, it’s not you! There is nothing ‘wrong’ with you if you are super self-critical at the minute, and here a few reasons why that’s true.
1. It’s in your Nature
I’m not going to become ‘professor Trusdale’ on you, but simply put, we all have a parasympathetic nervous system and a sympathetic nervous system.
Your parasympathetic nervous system is linked to self-compassion and being calm and at peace, whereas your sympathetic nervous system is linked to your fight, flight or freeze response.
Neither one is better than the other, they are both very much needed and serve a purpose. The problem is that although we have evolved in many ways over the centuries, your brains is still very primitive in a lot of ways.
So back when we had to hunt food, be ‘on guard’ against attack and being thrown out of our ‘tribe’ meant life or death, then our ‘threat system’ needed to be on high alert every day!
Fast forward to 2022, when luckily for most of us this isn’t a daily problem, our threat system can cause a few problems. Because of the way or brains our wired, they respond to external and internal threats in exactly the same way, it doesn’t actually know the difference.
So your brain and body respond in the same way to you walking into a crowded room feeling anxious, as it would if you came face to face with a sabre toothed tiger! It senses a threat, and your fight, flight or freeze is activated, it’s your body’s natural response.
2. Early Experiences
We all have different experiences as we go through life. But if you we’re raised in an environment that perhaps lacked safety and security, you will probably find that your ‘threat mode’ is switched on a lot more than someone’s who didn’t.
If you needed to be aware of danger growing up or perhaps even into your adult life, then it’s no wonder that your brain is even more trained for ‘threats’ and even in situations where you aren’t actually in danger, you feel on ‘alert’.
Another factor is whether or not you were taught self-compassion. Even if your environment was loving and caring and you felt safe, if you weren’t shown the skills to be self-compassionate then it’s unlikely that you will find it easy to be compassionate towards yourself.
Much like anything in life, if you aren’t taught it, how can you be expected to know it. So if you haven’t been show the skill of how to be self-compassionate then don’t worry, you can learn them.
3. You hold negative beliefs about being self-compassionate
Maybe your reading this right now and thinking, what? How could I have a negative belief about being self-compassionate. But it’s actually a lot more common that you might think.
You might have been raised or still live in an environments where being ‘compassionate’ or kind to yourself in the face of a setback, was and is seen as weakness or ‘letting yourself off the hook’.
Much like self-care, self-compassion can be incorrectly seen as self-indulgent. Perhaps when taking time for yourself and showing yourself kindness you’ve accused of being lazy, self-pitying or failing to take responsibility or action in the face of your problems.
It’s worth spending some time thinking about what you were told about self-compassion growing up and the beliefs you might still hold, that prevent you from feeling that ‘you’re able’ to be self-compassionate.
4. You hold positive beliefs about being self-critical
When we hold negative beliefs about self-compassion it’s also easy to have positive beliefs about being self-critical.
Criticism can be used in many ways and environments as a motivator. You might see it all the time in sports, where coaches scream at their players when they aren’t performing at their best or perhaps in school where if student doesn’t get ‘good enough grades’ they are told to ‘work harder’ and perhaps hear things like ‘you’re not trying hard enough’.
People might tell you that you need to take the criticism, it will make you tougher and more resilient.
Over time we start to say these things to ourselves. You make a mistake and you tell yourself ‘you’re so stupid, you need to try harder, that’s not good enough’ and while yes you may have made a mistake, is that harsh critical voice really making your feel more motivated and stronger? I very much doubt it.
You can be taught to believe that if you tell yourself all your flaws and mistakes that it will make you stronger and help you to move forward and achieve your goals. But the opposite is true, it crushes your motivation and your self-esteem.
“You can’t hate yourself happy. You can’t criticise yourself thin, you can’t shame yourself wealthy. Real change begins with self-love and self-care” – Jessica Ortner
What were you told growing up able being self-critical?
How can you start to build Self-Compassion?
By this point, I hope you know what self-compassion is, why it’s important and why it can be hard. So, let’s start talking about how you can start to be more compassionate, whatever is going on for you right now, I promise it’s possible.
1. Slow down
Yes, I know you’re busy and it feels like you haven’t got time to slow down, but this step is vital.
When you’re rushing around, working down that massive to do list you’ve made for yourself, it’s unlikely that when that inner critic starts, you’re going to be able to keep calm and in control.
So I always advise the women I work with to take a self-compassionate break throughout the day, to slow down often and take a moment to settle the whirlwind going on, mentally or physically.
You can take a walk, do a meditation or simply sit and enjoy your favourite drink watching the world go by. I know it’s tempting but don’t reach for your mobile and start scrolling, this can be a negative trigger for a lot of women.
As women we wear a million different hats and can face a lot of pressure, from others and ourselves. So just start to consciously slow yourself down through the day.
2. Start paying attention
It’s so easy to live life on autopilot, going through your day without pause or thought. So, in addition to slowing down, start to train your attention.
Learn to choose what you pay attention to and what you don’t by catching, watching and redirecting your thoughts.
- Catch – become aware of your criticism in the moment, become more present day to day. Spot when your inner critic starts talking.
- Watch – you don’t need to shut your inner critic down immediately, listen without judgement to what it’s saying. What are it’s fears? What does it want to protect you from?
- Redirect – Once you spot it and hear it, pause, breathe and redirect your thoughts. What are more compassionate thoughts you could have right now? Do you need to step away from the problem to be able to see clearly?
This takes time and practise but it’s worth it.
3. Focus on the Positives
I’m not talking about just ignoring what going on here, that leans more towards toxic positivity but there is something good in every day, even if you have to get out your magnifying glass to see it.
When our inner critic is running the show and we’re stuck in a self-critical cycle it can be very hard to see the positives, but they are there, our brains just isn’t looking for them.
So start forcing your brain to notice them. A great way to do this is to write a ‘3 good things’ list daily. This can include things that have gone well, that you enjoyed or handled well or simply what you feel grateful for.
When you do this often, you will find that your brain will start to seek out and notice more positives around you, without you having to force it.
So, is Self-Compassion the way to finally quieten your inner critic?
Self-compassion is the yang to self-criticism’s yin. It’s how we balance out and rationalise the persistent screams of the inner critic.
If you truly want to take back control of your inner critic then self-compassion is necessary. Will it be easy at first, probably not, but keep going, like everything, self-compassion is a skill. The more you work at it, the better you get at it.
If you try the activities above and you’re still struggling, you don’t need to do it alone, just drop me a message and I can help you.
Hey I’m Natalie, Supporting women like you on their road to self-acceptance and building their self-esteem is – as cliche as it sounds – my calling.