Why Can We Be So Mean To Ourselves?
Do you ever feel like there is a little voice inside you that can be a really harsh critic? A voice that is quick to tell you that you should have done it differently… shame you for making a mistake… or tell you that you’re not good enough when something didn’t go according to plan?
Sometimes this inner critic may be less noticeable, like when things have gone according to plan. But there are other times when it may feel like that critic won’t stop reminding you of a mistake or instilling doubt about your capabilities. Perhaps you notice times when it becomes especially loud, like when you’re trying something new or in situations where you feel less confident.
If you sometimes feel like you are your ‘harshest critic,’ you’re not alone.
Where did this critic come from? A critical inner voice may have begun developing from a young age due to a variety of influences, such as behavior modeled to us by others, culture, or societal norms.
Why is the critic so harsh sometimes? Even though it does not always seem like it, an inner critic is likely trying to protect us from perceived threats, both internal and external. Sometimes this can contribute to anxiety, rumination, or unhelpful beliefs about ourselves, the world, or others. For example, an inner critic who tells us not to go to the party may be trying to protect us from feeling anxiety in a social setting.
How can we soften the inner critic? Self-compassion can be a powerful tool to calm the inner critic. Self-compassion practices can help us regulate emotions, enhance well-being, and encourage positive change. Small practices can help us build self-compassion. You might experiment with practices such as these to start moving in the direction of greater self-love and kindness.
Like A Friend
Imagine a scenario in which your dear friend is struggling to market her new business in an effective way. As you listen to her challenges while having coffee together, you share genuine words of encouragement, “You can do this. I know you’re going to find your way.”
It would be surprising if what was said to a dear friend in her time of suffering was, “Your business idea isn’t good enough. It’s never going to work.” Yet, this is the language and tone that we can often take with ourselves when the inner critic is leading the way as it perhaps tries to protect us from failure.
To practice self-compassion, we can practice treating ourselves as we would a dear friend. For example, the next time we feel filled with fear or doubt (about a relationship, work, ourselves), we could offer ourselves kind words and loving warmth, just as we would a dear friend. After all, the buddy within is one who will always be with us so we mays well treat them right!
Have you ever had a boss you really liked? How about a boss you preferred a bit less? Think about differences between those two experiences.
· How were the relationships different?
· Did you feel more motivated to work hard for one more than the other?
· Did one boss contribute to anxiety or self-doubt?
We likely preferred the relationship with the boss we really liked. Perhaps we worked harder and maintained more motivation, felt less anxiety, and experienced more happiness at work. We could think of the inner critic as our ‘inner boss.’ We can choose to be a good boss to ourselves; a boss who uses kind and encouraging words and offers us patience and understanding when we make mistakes.*
Reflecting & Learning
All anyone can do day-to-day is their best. No one has all the answers, can predict the future, or do things perfectly. That’s the deal with being human and it means that we are going to make mistakes. Stumbling and failing is a part of life but this also means we have opportunities to be self-compassionate when we trip.
Practicing self-compassion in this way may look like:
· Take a pause
· Use kind self-talk, like “it is okay to not have all the answers”
· Reflect on the experience and what was learned
· Take that wisdom and insight, and keep going
Self-compassion can be a powerful tool that is happy to ride along wherever you go.
If you would like to begin working toward improving anxious tendencies, perfectionism, or self-criticism, reach out for a free 15-minute informational consultation and let’s see if Grow True is right for your needs. I want to support optimal wellness and personal growth.
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*Acknowledgment and special thanks to Dr. Louise Hayes for sharing her wisdom.