Facing your inner critic: How to cultivate self-compassion
“The last of human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
-Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Many of us carry around an inner critic. The voice that whispers, “You’re not enough” or yells “Who do you think you are?” “Why did you do that?” It questions us and makes hurtful and judgmental statements. The critic becomes a part of us, and we grow accustomed to it. It is like a noisy radio that has been broadcasting in the background of our minds for so long that it has become habitual. As a result, self-love sounds like a foreign concept, and many of our life experiences have pushed us away from it. Sometimes, it feels easier to give love and empathy to others, rather than giving it to ourselves.
The first step in facing our inner critic is recognizing that it isn’t “us.” It is an accumulation of internalized messages that we have received throughout our lives that have become embedded in our identity. Societal messages about putting on a brave face, being happy, confident, and put-together, cause people to mask their inner critic and stay silent. Numbing, escaping, or fighting against it is usually how we deal with our inner critic, resulting in anxiety, depression, and many other uncomfortable symptoms.
Facing the inner critic requires be-friending it, rather than seeing it as an enemy. The inner critic is a wound that is seeking attention, acceptance, and safety. There is a metaphor in self-compassion work called “The Two Friends” (Harris, 2022). Imagine that your self-talk is a friend on your journey. What kind of friend do you want by your side? Meeting the critic with compassion, listening to it, and creating a dialogue with it, reduces the negative radio noise playing in your mind and changes the channel to a kinder, gentler voice.
What is self-compassion?
It is Self-Kindness: Being warm and gentle when the negative talk is loud. This requires understanding and meeting the voice with non-judgmental empathy and creating a dialogue with it. Self-kindness sounds like: “Today is going to be hard, but I got you.” “I made a mistake today, but I’m human, I can do better tomorrow” or, “It is ok, to not be ok.”
It is Accepting our Humanity: Guess what!?! We get to be human. We all make mistakes, do silly and embarrassing things, and feel socially awkward much of the time. Life is messy. Embracing being perfectly imperfect requires empathy for the struggle and suffering that we go through.
It is Mindfulness or Presence: When we start to sit with suffering and difficult feelings, it is not about making them go away. Suffering and difficulties are inevitable. It is about acknowledging our pain, observing the self-talk in our minds, and noticing sensations and feelings in our bodies. It is a practice of learning to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Coming to terms with the fact that we aren’t meant to be happy all the time reduces the shame and stigma associated with feeling “not good enough” or “worthy” of self-love. Self-love is a brave act that requires courage.
There are many diverse ways to practice self-compassion. Finding what works best for you is the key. Dr. Kristin Neff (2023) is a self-compassion researcher and has many self-compassion-guided practices and exercises to follow on her website: https://self-compassion.org/
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Brown, B. (2022). The gifts of imperfection. Hazelden Publishing.
Frankl, V.E. (1959). Man’s search for meaning. New York: Pocket Books.
Harris, R. (2020). ACT made simple. Read How You Want.
Harris, R. (2022). Trauma-focused act: A practitioner’s guide to working with mind, body, and emotion using acceptance and commitment therapy. New Harbinger Publications.
Neff, K. (2023). Self-Compassion. https://self-compassion.org/