Moving from Self-Criticism to Self-Compassion
The world around us can be competitive, ruthless and judgemental. We take this for granted. It is considered the norm to strive for top academic grades; have a successful career; a glittering social life and a toned body; whilst simultaneously presenting a social media profile showcasing all of this.
When we are always ‘doing’ and striving towards the next milestone, our inner voice is often not a kind and encouraging one. Instead of cheering us on, it compares and berates. Nothing feels good enough, leaving us feeling discouraged, inadequate and depressed. Also, we feel confused. We feel that we are doing everything that we are supposed to be doing to make us happy, but are still left wanting.
‘Why should I feel depressed and low? – there is no reason for it’ we wonder. We feel ashamed of having these feelings and push them away, thinking there is something inherently wrong with us. We might turn to food, alcohol, shopping or work to bury these feelings.
Maybe we try and feel better by having ‘me time’ and getting our nails done or going out for a meal. Frequently, the inner critic isn’t quietened or subdued in these situations though. It is thinking about the right food to eat or comparing the manicure to the person on the other side of the room.
Why bother with self-compassion? Sometimes we might think that it is a bit pointless or indulgent. A client said to me recently, ‘How can I be self-compassionate and still achieve my goals?’ Self-compassion was seen as almost being lazy and unnecessary. Would it mean drifting along and giving up on ambitions and aspirations?
In truth, self-compassion and achievement are entirely compatible partners. Actually, with the presence of self-compassion, the journey towards our goals is a happier and more joyful one.
How can we be more self-compassionate?
Being self-compassionate is about tuning in to you; listening to your inner voice and then meeting your needs accordingly.
It is about being kind to yourself with your inner-talk, actions and behaviours.
It about forgiving yourself and accepting the vulnerabilities of being human, and letting go of the need to be Super Woman or Super Man.
It is about carefully tending to your needs in the way that you might do for a dear friend, a beloved pet or your child.
It sounds very simple but it can be incredibly hard to do when the outer world brings strong distractions and demands. Our ‘inner parent’ is often vigilant to responding to the outside world and is quick to criticise and judge; feelings of guilt arising when we don’t comply. We may have become adept over years in doing the ‘shoulds’ whilst ignoring our own needs and inner voice.
Often, we have to make an active decision to become self-compassionate.
10 ways to practice self-compassion
1. When you are tired, rather than push yourself to the limit, stop and allow yourself to rest without guilt
2. Make time to feed yourself nutritious and delicious food. Fuelling your body well is a cornerstone of self-care
3. When you feel sad or angry or anxious, talk kindly to yourself and listen to your feelings. They are telling you something. Look after yourself as you would a friend in distress
4. When work is overwhelming, take time out to rejuvenate and soothe yourself, rather than taking on more
5. When something goes wrong, take action to remedy the situation. Forgive yourself and accept that we all make mistakes. Move on and learn from the experience
6. Regularly recognise your unique qualities and gifts. Spend less time noticing the things that haven’t gone well
7. Have gratitude for the things you do have, putting the blinkers on to comparisons with others
8. Learn to say ‘no’ when you get that sinking feeling of obligation when too much is demanded of you and learn to set healthy boundaries
9. See the funny side of life. Humour can lighten our experiences considerably and can help put things in perspective. Does it matter that much?
10. Listen to your joy. What makes you feel excited, happy and hopeful? Ensure you make time for your joy in daily life. It is often the simple, little things that make our hearts light up and sing
If you are struggling to be self-compassionate or feel very low or undeserving of being kind towards yourself, counselling can provide a safe and supportive space to explore this further. You can understand the personal barriers to practising self-compassion and learn ways to improve your wellbeing and mood.