Self-Compassion: Working with your inner critic and moving towards self-compassion

Have you ever wondered that there is more out there than beating yourself up on a day by day basis? I work with people to help move them from a place of motivation from criticism to motivation from self-compassion. Often, people use self-criticism as a “motivator”. If we are our own worst critic then we will push ourselves farther. Unfortunately, that’s not the truth and in reality, actually holds us back. Self-compassion moves us into new opportunity.

Self-Criticism Doesn’t Work

While there are many beliefs that the more critical we are towards ourselves and others the harder they will work to prove the criticism wrong, this isn’t true. Self-criticism actually enacts our sympathetic or dorsal vagal parts of our nervous system. Meaning that, when we become self-critical we start to move into survival mode. Self-criticism is a message to the brain that something is unsafe here and therefore we need to engage in survival: fight, flight or freeze.

This means that in the short term we can get a burst of cortisol & adrenaline and feel able to be present, for some we shut down and disconnect. This can get us through the short term problem, however causes many physical health effects: back, neck, head pain, GI issues, inflamation, and it causes emotional health issues. The more self-critical we are, the deeper into this survival state that we go. Meaning that in the long run we close doors because we don’t believe in ourselves to take on new opportunities. Our comfort zone shrinks and we don’t trust ourselves to move out of it. We get more and more stuck.

Self-Compassion: New Opportunities & More Fulfillment

So what do we do? Most of us aren’t taught self-compassion, in fact, many of us are taught that self-compassion is egotistic. Self-compassion is not blind validation for yourself. Self-compassion is understanding yourself, where you are at and that in this moment you are enough just as you are. It doesn’t mean you don’t try to grow more, it doesn’t mean you don’t challenge yourself. In fact, it means the opposite, you believe in yourself enough to take on the challenge.

When we work with self-compassion, we work on not criticising the criticism. I know this is hard, when we learn it is holding us back we can become angry with it. Instead, take an opportunity to hear the criticism and challenge yourself to see what emotion is underneath. Is it scared of failure? Sad or disappointed? When we know the emotions underneath the action we are better able ot nurture ourselves and it is easier to get into a self-compassionate place.

Self-Compassion Practice

I learned this practice through Kristin Neff, a mindful self-compassion teacher. Her work is wonderful and if you would like to see more, click here. The simple practice takes 3 steps:

  1. Identify the Feeling:
    • Notice the self-criticism, if you can notice whatever unpleasant emotion is surfacing with this. You can use this outside of times of self-criticism, any unpleasant emotion that surfaces. Simply name it: “I’m feeling anxious”
  2. Connect with Common Humanity
    • Understand that you are not alone in your suffering. Everyone struggles, this is a human experience – you are not alone. EX: “everyone feels this way sometimes, I know I am not alone”
  3. Bring in Kindness
    • Work on saying something kind to yourself – it is okay to have this feeling. Then work on bringing in some nurturing. What does this emotion need from you to gain some soothing. This could be: a good cry, some movement, coloring, playing with playdoh. Bring in the kindness.

Take it One Day at a Time

This practice, while it sounds easy is not. It takes time to re-wire your brain away from self-criticism and towards self-compassion. Work on identifying the self-criticism when it comes up, and moving into the practice above.

As always, sometimes there are bigger barriers. Sometimes we need deeper work – Brainspotting has been an amazing opportunity for me to process what held me back from self-compassion. Reach out if you are looking for a therapist in WI – check out our provider page!

Patrice Flanagan-Morris
Empowerment Within LLC

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