05 Sep How to Tame the Inner Critic and Cultivate Self-Compassion
Does the idea of being your own friend sound foreign to you?
Well, that is what being self-compassionate is. Having compassion for oneself is no different from having compassion for others.
Self-compassion is based on three principles- being aware of our own pain and suffering (whatever that may be and look like), acknowledging that pain and suffering, whilst difficult is a shared human experience, and then directing feelings of kindness and care towards ourselves as we navigate how we can alleviate our pain and move through the struggle.
Self-compassion is the opposite of the more commonly known self-criticism. We seem to be able to easily criticise ourselves and speak to ourselves harshly during difficult times or when we make mistakes. Yet, for some, it seems impossible to be kind and compassionate.
Why is it so hard to be self-compassionate?
Early Life Experiences
Just like anything, our early life experiences can shape the way that we are. For some people, experiencing limited care, kindness and nurturing from others in childhood can lead to our inability to self-soothe. If you didn’t receive much compassion from others in earlier years, then it makes sense that it would be more challenging to develop the ability to be compassionate to yourself later in life.
Lack of Awareness
Many of us may not even be aware that we are struggling or of the critical ways we may be treating ourselves.
Negative Beliefs about Self-Compassion
Being self-compassionate is not something that is normalised, and so it can carry some negative connotations. Some people think being self-compassionate will lead to laziness. Many rely on self-criticism to motivate them and achieve. This gives further weight to self-criticism. In reality, we know that self-criticism only prolongs our pain and suffering, keeping us stuck and unable to move forward from the struggle we are facing.
What Benefits does Self-Compassion have for our Mental Health and Well-Being?
Research has shown that self-compassion is strongly linked to mental health and well-being. Studies have found that those more compassionate towards themselves are less likely to experience mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety and stress. These people also tend to have a better quality of life, a greater sense of well-being, and fewer interpersonal relationship challenges. Compassion, in general, is linked to the hormone oxytocin. It is suggested that being compassionate to ourselves can equally trigger the release of oxytocin (read more about oxytocin here) and the calming benefits it brings.
What is the role of self-compassion on body image?
Self-compassion encourages individuals to accept themselves and their bodies despite their imperfections, which is a skill that is invaluable to body acceptance and body love. Being kind, gentle and understanding towards ourselves rather than harsh directly counters the root of body dissatisfaction. That is the tendency to criticise rather than accept one’s body as is.
How can we cultivate greater self-compassion?
1. To be able to respond to ourselves compassionately, we must first be aware that we are struggling and aware when our mind leaps into self-critical thinking.
2. We can imagine giving compassion to another person you care deeply for. To get you started, think to yourself – What would you say to someone near and dear if they came to you describing the same thoughts?
3. We can tune into our thoughts and ask ourselves questions, such as – What does the compassionate part of me want to say to the self-critical part? What are some other ways of viewing this situation that might be more realistic, kinder or more helpful to me? What can I do to cope and look after myself now?
4. We can work on self-care and engaging in self-nurturing activities. This will look different for everyone. My favourites include having a hot bath, putting moisturiser on, spending time in nature, and speaking to a friend.
5. Taking care of others and showing kindness and gratitude towards the people around us is helpful. Some examples might include hugging someone, complimenting them, or walking with someone.
6. Being compassionate also means facing our problems and taking action rather than avoiding, giving up, procrastinating, escaping or numbing our feelings.
How can Positive Wellbeing Psychology help?
At Positive Wellbeing Psychology, our psychologists adopt a holistic approach to tame the inner critic and cultivate a greater sense of self-compassion. Our psychology practice has warm and compassionate psychologists with a particular interest in improving confidence, mood and interpersonal relationships and overall life satisfaction. You may benefit from talking to a warm and caring psychologist to explore the maintaining factors for low self-esteem. Reach out to our warm and compassionate psychologists today should you feel unsupported or need an added layer of support to your existing network.