Are you self-critical?
It’s easy to fall into a pattern of self-criticism. Often, we don’t even realize that we’re speaking to ourselves with harsh criticisms that we’d never use towards others.
Self-criticism becomes hardwired into your brain
Self-criticism is like a bad habit – the more we do it, the more it gets hardwired into our brains and becomes an automatic thinking pattern. So, although the seeds of self-criticism and low self-esteem were planted in childhood, as adults we continue to unknowingly reinforce negative beliefs about ourselves by unconsciously looking for evidence to support them. For example, if you believe you’re clumsy, you’ll think spilling your cup of coffee is proof of your ineptitude and think, “I’m such a klutz. I can’t believe I ruined my new white shirt! What an idiot!”
Self-compassion creates healthier ways of thinking
Alternatively, we can use self-compassion to rewire our brains and change these thinking patterns. We can learn to respond to our mistakes and flaws with kindness and understanding instead of self-criticism and blame, which allows us to begin to see ourselves in a more positive light. So, instead of scolding yourself for spilling coffee, you could respond with self-compassion. It might look something like this: “Wow! I must be really tired and stressed. I think what I need is to slow down rather than pushing myself so hard.” You can see that this response acknowledges that you’re having a hard time and meets it with compassion which allows you to see that you’re like everyone else – flawed, but not inferior because of it.
5 Ways to practice self-compassion
- Cut yourself some slack. When you screw up, fail to achieve a goal, or don’t meet an expectation, try to respond with self-compassion rather than criticism. Don’t be so quick to judge yourself and focus on what you’ve done wrong. Compassion can be more motivating than criticism and punishment. So, giving yourself space to make mistakes and forgiving yourself can be an instrumental part of learning, growing, and becoming the person you want to be.
- Don’t take other people’s opinions of you too seriously. It’s natural to want to be liked. But if you always put other people’s opinions before our own, you run the risk of compromising your authenticity and wellbeing by trying to accomplish the impossible task of keeping everyone else happy. Your opinions and thoughts are just as important and valid as everyone else’s. So, instead of suppressing your own ideas and needs, try to be curious about what others think without feeling like you need to agree or always do what they want. Some conflict in relationships is actually healthy and most relationships can tolerate an occasional disagreement. If this is hard for you, start small and with safer people until you build up your confidence.
- Ask for help. One of the kindest things you can do for yourself is to ask for help when you need it. It’s unrealistic to think you can do it all and never need a helping hand. Humans are meant to be inter-dependent and live in community, which means I’ll ask you for help when my daughter is sick and you’ll ask me for help when your car breaks down. Healthy relationships have a give-and-take like this; asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness or inferiority.
- Notice what you’re doing “right”. Since our brains are automatically programmed to notice our mistakes and flaws, it takes more work to see the things you’re doing “right”. At the end of each day, take a few minutes to make note of what went well or what you’re proud of. These don’t have to be big things, simply give yourself a kind word or virtual high five for getting to work on time or surviving another boring meeting without dozing off. I’m sure you do a lot of things right and this will help you acknowledge them and keep things in perspective.
- Give yourself a treat. Self-compassion can take the form of doing something nice for yourself. Often, we think treats have to be earned (like I have to respond to ten emails before calling my girlfriend for a chat). Rewards have their place, but treats are things you give yourself for no particular reason. The only rule is that self-compassionate treats need to be good for you (so, drinking a bottle of wine doesn’t really count as self-compassion). Try asking yourself what you really need right now and see if you can give that to yourself. Chances are you’ll feel better when you take care of yourself and sprinkle in more treats.
I hope these five ways to practice self-compassion will help kick-start your self-compassion practice. You may want to implement just one of these ideas if you’re new to self-compassion, and then you can add more as it becomes easier and more natural to think and act with self-compassion.
Graphics and article ©2018 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com
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