Most of us criticize ourselves from time to time. For some of us that critical inner voice is louder and more persistent than it is for others. Think about your own self-talk. How often is it critical? When is it kind? When bad things happen, most people respond with self-criticism and many people engage in self-critical thinking on a regular basis. See if you can relate to any of the following:
- I’m so lazy! I know I could work harder.
- I can’t believe I said that! I need to just keep my mouth shut.
- No one would want to date a person like me!
- I shouldn’t have eaten that piece of cake – I’m hopeless!
So why are we so critical of ourselves?
We have all heard about the ‘fight or flight response’ – our body’s reaction to threat and stress, which we learn to use as a way to protect ourselves from harm. Some of the defense mechanisms we develop, however, end up doing more harm than good.
In a culture that values independence and achievement, self-criticism has become the “fight” to improve after a mistake or the “flight” to prevent or avoid failure or shame in the future. Often, we feel that self-criticism will lead us to be more motivated, to become better, or will prevent us from making a fool out of ourselves. You may relate to the fear that, without your inner self-critic, you would be lazy, irresponsible, or would completely let yourself go. But, does self-criticism actually help people in situations like the ones described above? Does self-criticism help you? Not as much as you may think! In fact, self-criticism is usually accompanied by things like depression, anxiety, ineffective behaviors, and low productivity.
The antidote to self-criticism and its negative effects is self-compassion, a fundamental skill that people can learn in order to become happier, more productive human beings. Self-compassion is NOT about letting yourself off the hook, giving up, or telling yourself that everything is perfect. Self-compassion is about dropping self-judgments, being kind to yourself, learning that mistakes are universal, and giving yourself the support that you would give a good friend. Like any new skill, self-compassion consists of a set of tools that we can learn and then apply to our daily lives. Next time things don’t go your way, you can start by taking a deep breath and asking yourself, “What am I experiencing? What do I need now?” Then take a step towards self-compassion by engaging in healthy, self-caring activities and giving yourself the comfort that you need to move forward.
For more information about this, Ashley Giles, LCSW, Chamin Ajjan Psychotherapy or the Self-Compassion Group please email Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 917.476.9381.