Steps to Self-Compassion and Overcoming Your Inner Critic
The only person you are going to spend every minute of every day with is… you. Your relationship with yourself is arguably the most important relationship you will ever have since it contributes to how you feel all the time.
So, what kind of relationship do you have with yourself? Is it loving and kind or is it full of criticism and blame?
By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly how to improve the most important relationship in your life. And, as a bonus, when you learn to develop a healthy relationship with yourself, you will find that all of your other relationships begin to improve too.
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion means being loving, forgiving and accepting of ourselves when we make mistakes or face challenges.
It encourages us to focus on the ways we talk to ourselves, the kinds of thoughts we think and the judgments and criticisms we make about our own actions and worthiness.
Self-compassion is a key area of positive psychology research as it impacts a person’s entire sense of self-esteem, confidence and well-being.
According to Dr Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the study of self-compassion, self-compassion is made up of 3 parts:
- Common humanity
Self-kindness is all about treating yourself with warmth and understanding even when you make mistakes or are hurt. When you show yourself kindness, you see yourself as worthy of love no matter what.
The second part of self-compassion, common humanity, is about recognising that we are all more alike than we are different.
Common humanity reminds you that you are never alone or isolated. We are all human, we all make mistakes, we all experience failure, we all have “flaws” and we all struggle from time to time.
None of us is perfect. In fact, imperfection is a key part of the human experience.
Mindfulness is the process of noticing how you are feeling and what you are thinking. It helps you stay balanced even when you struggle with painful thoughts or emotions.
Mindfulness encourages you to observe your thoughts with curiosity rather than immediately labelling them as the truth. It helps you become aware of your thoughts and feelings without being judgmental or overly concerned by them.
Compassion vs kindness
Being kind to yourself is important but it is only one piece of self-compassion.
In order to have true self-compassion, we need to also recognise our connectedness to others and openly observe our thoughts and feelings.
True self-compassion is the only way you can move on from mistakes and failures so that you can grow into the person you want to be.
Self-compassion vs self-love
Self-compassion is a less permanent attitude than self-love. While it is important to be working on having self-love at all times, self-compassion is something we only require in certain moments throughout the day or week.
Self-love is the baseline state we all ideally live from. Whereas, self-compassion is the tool we use when we face obstacles and challenges that threaten our self-esteem.
For example, say you lost control and yelled at your kids. Immediately afterwards, you might be filled with shame. You might chastise yourself for being a “bad” parent. You might make yourself feel guilty for not staying calm. You might tell yourself that your friends are all much better at parenting than you. These criticisms and judgments will make you feel low, upset and maybe even angry with yourself.
But, if you have self-compassion, your response to yelling at your kids will look very different. You might initially still feel guilty or shameful, but then you will be able to forgive yourself and allow yourself to learn from the experience.
A self-compassionate person uses their mistakes to help them grow and change. They don’t let negative actions mean they are a “bad” person, they simply acknowledge that they behaved in a way that they choose not to in future.
Self-compassion brings love, understanding and forgiveness into your daily life. It helps you respond to hurdles and triggers in a way that boosts your self-esteem rather than tears it apart.
How to develop self-compassion
Getting started with self-compassion can often be quite a challenge. Many of us are programmed to respond in a certain way to hurt and negativity.
Developing self-compassion takes time, but it absolutely can be done. The key is to remember that self-compassion won’t always feel good. The mindfulness part of self-compassion means you need to recognise and process your negative emotions before you move on from them.
Self-compassion isn’t about just “being positive” no matter what. It’s about learning to love yourself through pain and struggle.
One of the best ways to develop self-compassion is through working with a psychologist. If you are looking for a private psychologist in London who can support you through building compassion for yourself, check out this page to find out more about therapy at our private psychology clinic.
When you are ready to start working with a therapist, you can easily get in touch with us to book an appointment using our contact form here.
In the meantime, here are 6 steps to help you develop self-compassion all by yourself:
1) Acknowledge your pain
The instinct for a lot of us is to ignore our suffering in the hopes that it will go away. Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that the goal of positive psychology is to “override” any negative emotions with positive affirmations and optimism. This is not the case. The goal is to process your pain so that you can heal and grow from it.
If someone came to you saying they were suffering, you wouldn’t immediately try to distract them by talking about something else. You’d ask them what had happened and why they were feeling that way. We can do the same thing for ourselves when we experience pain.
2) Treat yourself the same way you’d treat a loved one or child
Let yourself make mistakes. Treat yourself with patience and kindness and avoid judgment or blame.
Think about the things you’d say to a child or friend when they mess up. Maybe you’d say something like “Don’t worry, we all make mistakes,” or “I still love you and think you’re an amazing person.” Compare this to what you say to yourself when you mess up.
The goal is to shift from self-criticism to self-kindness. Most of us would never tell a child that they’re an idiot or that they’re never going to succeed, and yet so many of us say these kinds of things to ourselves.
When you can learn to switch your internal dialogue to match the kindness and understanding you give others, you activate self-compassion.
3) Practice self-acceptance
Embrace your perceived “flaws” as well as your strengths. You might like to try using “releasing statements” whenever you experience a challenge or trigger that makes you feel angry or upset with yourself.
For example, when you are triggered to think a thought like “I am such a bad person” for acting or feeling a certain way, try following up that thought with one like “It’s okay that I acted/felt that way. I am learning and growing and this is part of the process.”
4) Practice forgiveness
If you want to overcome your struggles and live a happier life, you must learn to forgive yourself for your mistakes. Use self-kindness to help you reframe the things you beat yourself up about.
Often, deeply rooted feelings of blame and shame require several tries at forgiveness before you can fully let them go.
Try imagining your past self standing in front of you, then picture yourself forgiving them and giving them a hug. Alternatively, try repeating a phrase like “It’s okay. Thank you. I love you and I forgive you” out loud, in your mind or in your journal.
5) Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is one of the core components of self-compassion as it helps you develop self-awareness. When you are self-aware, you notice the thoughts you are thinking and the emotions you are feeling, which allows you to learn more about yourself and change your thought patterns, if you want to.
You can also use mindfulness to help you feel more emotionally stable and balanced on a day-to-day basis. This will make self-compassion much easier to tap into whenever it is needed. Try meditation, walking in nature, gardening, writing a gratitude list or doing breathing exercises to help you centre in the present.
6) Comfort your body
Just as it is important to be kind and understanding towards yourself in the same way you would a friend or child, it is also important to treat yourself with kindness physically, too.
Feed yourself healthy, nourishing foods, allow yourself to rest and lie down, and perform activities like applying moisturiser or washing your hair with gentleness and care.
In moments of stress, you can use touch to help you feel supported. Place one hand on the opposite forearm, or if you can, place your hand over your heart. Doing so triggers your body’s care system the same way it does when someone else comforts you through a hug.
This simple action triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin in your body, which makes you feel safe and can help you calm down.
How to overcome self-criticism
We all have an inner critic. It’s that voice in our heads that tells us we’re not good enough and blames us every time we fail or make a mistake.
This inner critic probably acted as a survival mechanism thousands of years ago, ensuring that we behaved in ways that would keep us safe (including by being liked by others).
The trouble is, most of us don’t face any of the same dangers to our survival these days. And yet, the inner critic is still there, mistakenly thinking it is keeping us alive.
The way you talk to yourself majorly impacts your overall well-being. Luckily, it is possible to override your harsh inner critic.
Here are a couple of ways you can silence your inner critic:
1) Externalise your inner critic
If this voice was an animal or cartoon character, what would they look like and what would their name be? Characterising your inner critic can help you see the voice as something separate from you, which allows you to realise that what it is saying might not be the truth.
2) Use self-compassion affirmations
These aren’t your typical affirmations designed for empowerment or motivation. They are reassuring truths that you can remind yourself of whenever you are struggling with self-criticism. For example:
- I’m not the first person to have felt this way and I won’t be the last.
- My mistakes are simply a sign that I am growing.
- It is safe for me to be kind to myself and forgive myself.
- I release myself from the burden of all my past mistakes and move forward with love and understanding.
A self-compassion exercise
If you are looking for ways to practice self-compassion in your everyday life, journaling can be a very effective method.
When you next experience a moment of struggle or pain, try writing a self-compassion letter to yourself in your journal using the following prompts.
First, address the mindfulness component of self-compassion by completing the following sentences:
- I felt _____ because I was thinking thoughts like…
- Looking back on my behaviour, I realise now that my actions were driven by feelings of…
Then, use this next prompt to help you connect with the common humanity part of self-compassion:
- I am not the only person to have felt _____. In fact, everybody feels _____ in situations like…
Finally, practice self-kindness by filling in these sentences:
- I forgive myself for _____ earlier.
- Next time a situation like this happens, I will…
This final prompt is your opportunity to think about how you would like to act the next time you feel a similar way or experience a similar situation.
Brainstorm a list of affirmations you can use and actions you can take, such as taking 5 deep, slow breaths, or asking yourself what you are afraid of to help you become aware of your thoughts before you act.
Self-compassion is a lifelong journey; however, there are lots of things you can do to start being more compassionate towards yourself right now.
One of the best ways to work on your self-compassion is with the guidance of a psychotherapist. At the Blue Tree Clinic, our team of highly-trained private psychologists are available to help you on your self-compassion journey. They can teach you tools and exercises specifically tailored to you in order to help you develop a healthy, loving relationship with yourself and the people around you.
To book an appointment at our private psychology clinic in London, get in touch using our contact form here.