Lowering our stress response and having a pause in the day and our busy minds.
What is self compassion, how do we do it and why is it a good idea?
Our true constant companion is the voice that lives inside our heads. But for many of us, the relationship between ourselves and that voice isn’t so positive and yet we chat and listen to it constantly.
Unfortunately, this negative relationship is all too common, with many of us listening to our own harsh self criticism, and this can play a vital role on our wellbeing. A person who is self-critical tends to evaluate themselves and their actions very strongly, focusing on their weaknesses, faults, and mistakes.
Taming the harsh self-critic.
Luckily, the problem of the harsh self-critic is one that can be tamed and fixed. We can create a better relationship with ourselves.
It is important to remember that we have control over our mental space and this voice in our heads. This means we can learn to make our minds a more positive place to be.
Continue reading to find out more about self-criticism and some of my best tips to help manage it.
Over time, I have slowly came to realise that self-criticism—despite being most peoples direct go to — was not helpful in any way, and in fact only made things worse for me. I wasn’t making myself a better person by beating myself up all the time. Instead, I was causing myself to feel inadequate and insecure, then taking out my frustration on the people closest to me, the people I love and care for.
More than that, I wasn’t owning up to many things about myself because I was so afraid of the self-hate and shame that would follow if I acknowledged and admitted the truth.
As Researcher Kristin Neff says
“I realised that self-compassion was the perfect alternative to the relentless pursuit of self-esteem. Why? Because it offers the same protection against harsh self-criticism as self-esteem, but without the need to see ourselves as perfect or as better than others. In other words, self-compassion provides the same benefits as high self-esteem without its drawbacks.
Self-compassion is a powerful way to achieve emotional well-being and contentment in our lives, helping us avoid destructive patterns of fear, negativity, and isolation. More so than self-esteem, the nurturing quality of self-compassion allows us to flourish, to appreciate the beauty and richness of life, even in hard times. When we soothe our agitated minds with self-compassion, we’re better able to notice what’s right as well as what’s wrong, so that we can orient ourselves toward that which gives us joy.”
The following detailed, science-based exercises will not only help you increase the compassion and kindness you give to yourself but will also provide you with the tools to help your clients, students, children or employees show more compassion to themselves.
Six ways To Respond To Your Self-Criticism in a positive way
1: Identify the Strengths you have:
Managing self-critical thoughts is not something that can be fixed overnight. However, identifying and reminding yourself of your strengths can help you regain your confidence. For example:
“I am a good mother, father, daughter, son, friend, spouse, parent.”
“I am a kind person.”
“I feel empathy for others.”
“I am creative and enjoy my passions”,
“I work hard.” “I don’t give up on anything.”
“I am learning how to be kind, loving and gentle to myself.”
“I am doing the best that I can right now.”
“I love myself, every day, all day.”
2: Look for Evidence of your thought:
Do you really have good evidence to support your self-critical thought? For example, let’s say you didn’t do as well on your exam as you thought you would. You wanted an A-, but instead, you got a B+. Do you have real evidence to tell yourself, “I did really bad and now I’m going to fail this class”? Most likely, the answer will be NO! Remember, your mind can tell you lies and minimise your reality.
3: Replace Self-Critical Thoughts:
Once you’ve identified you don’t have evidence to support your self-critical thought, try replacing it with a more realistic one that is focused less on criticism and more on improvement. For example, “I didn’t do as well as I thought, but a B+ is still a really good result. I still have many opportunities to do well and grow in this class.”
4: Fight back on those hard Thoughts:
Some self-critical thoughts are harder to manage than others. For example, “I am ugly.” “I’m not good enough for x.” “I am a terrible person.” “I will always be alone.” “I am a failure.” For these kinds of thoughts, it may be helpful to think about whether they serve a real purpose for you. Do they help you achieve your goals and get you closer to where you want to be, or do they make you feel worse about yourself?
When you have a self-critical thought, try thinking about how you would respond to a friend if they expressed this negative thought to you. Would you talk to a friend this way? We often forget to be kind to ourselves and practice Self-Compassion. It may be helpful to change your inner dialogue from the first person to the third person, so it feels like you really are responding to a friend. Talk back to yourself like you are your best friend, this can be out loud or as an inner voice.
Here is more information from researcher – Kristin Neff:
“Research shows that the more we practice being kind and compassionate with ourselves, either using informal practices such as the Self-Compassion Break, or formal meditation practices such as Affectionate Breathing – the more we’ll increase the habit of self-compassion.”
This is because it feels good to be looked after and who better to do this than the person feeling the pain – you.
Practicing Mindfulness allows you to acknowledge self-critical thoughts as they appear without judgment, and then let go of those negative thoughts. In practicing mindfulness, you will naturally learn to focus on the positive aspects of yourself.
Mindfulness also helps us realise that we are all humans who are sometimes self-critical, which makes us feel less alone.
We can make mistakes and be okay with that. Don’t be too hard on yourself, in fact do the opposite!
Time to practice – an example of self compassion
Give to yourself what you so desperately need or crave – that compassion that maybe you never got as a child, or now, in your relationship.
Actually think about what you would have liked someone to do for you when you were in pain, grieving, angry or feeling hopeless.(especially from someone important, like maybe what you never heard or felt from you dad).
Place your hand on your heart, or gently stroke your hair and think of the words you would love to hear
.But do this for yourself – give this compassion to you
Say exactly what you need to hear to help sooth and ease the pain or anger (anger is actually pain about something!)
.”You are really hurting and struggling right now Sophie.”
“Life throws us some curve balls and can be so difficult sometimes and everyone goes through this.” What is the one thing I can do to move myself forward right now?
“I love you and know you will be okay, you are allowed to feel this pain, it’s healthy to feel these strong emotions and I am giving myself this care and kindness.”
Breathe in compassion, visualise it filling you up with each breath
Can self-compassion be life changing?
It might seem surprising that self-compassion can bring about great change, but modern science is backing this up. Research suggests that an attitude of kindness strengthens our ability to learn from our mistakes, which can expand our perspective and make us more creative and resourceful.
When you are focusing on being kind and understanding towards yourself, there is less space for that negative back chat. This increases your energy levels as you are in a more positive space.
What are the benefits of self-compassion?
Benefits Of Self-Compassion
- It increases motivation.
- It boosts happiness.
- It improves body image.
- It enhances self-worth.
- It fosters resilience.
- It reduces mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and stress.
- Increased energy levels.
How does self-compassion change the brain?
Research indicates that increased levels of oxytocin strongly increase feelings of trust, calm, safety, generosity, and connectedness, and facilitates the ability to feel warmth and compassion for ourselves. … Recent research has shown that generating feelings of self-compassion actually decreases our cortisol levels.
When your body senses that it’s in a high stress situation, it releases cortisol, which elevates your heart rate and increases your blood pressure.
Chronic cortisol in the body.
Reducing cortisol levels have been found to improve symptoms of these mental health disorders.
If your cortisol levels are abnormally high, you can reduce them by shifting your body from the stress response, or autonomic nervous system, to the relaxation response , or parasympathetic nervous system. This shift shuts down increased cortisol production and can help any processes that may have been thrown off to return to normal functioning.
Three ways to do a relaxation response
Self compassion break
The pause – Putting your arms up high above your head and slowly bringing them down, saying pause, pause, pause slowly as you bring your hands down.
Can self-compassion impact self esteem and what is the main difference between them?
Self esteem is an evaluation of your self worth, it is wanting to think highly of yourself and this means comparing yourself to other people. There will always be better and lesser people than yourself, so in effect you are either demeaning yourself or judging others, which is not of benefit to you. It’s just competition
Self compassion is how you treat yourself, and noticing that you are human, it’s being gentle on yourself, acknowledging your faults, knowing this is okay and then loving and being kind to yourself.
If you’re self-compassionate, you’ll tend to have higher self-esteem than if you’re endlessly self-critical and judgemental. Just like high self-esteem, self-compassion is associated with significantly less anxiety and depression, as well as more happiness, optimism, and positive emotions.
Practicing self compassion and making it a daily routine is a win win!
I know, I am the perfect person who has been the victim of my own anger and pain, over and over again, so writing this article, researching this topic and processing it has made me realise just how powerful and important compassion for ourselves is.
Interacting differently when self compassion is used.
Here is an example of a moment I experienced of great stress and how I chose to interact with it differently.
“I asked my ex-husband if he could pay more towards my child support, as it had gone down substantially even though his income was still the same and my children were nearly teenagers and everything was getting more expensive. I knew it was to do with him reshuffling his business and making it look like his income was less. He agreed to think about it and come back to me with a figure.
Ten days later he finally got back to me, I already new the answer from the vibe I felt during the days I had waited, he offered me a pathetic amount under the condition that I went private and not through the tax agent. This of course means taking the risk of it being stopped by him at any moment which I know he is capable of and him having control over me again. I rejected the offer as politely as possible and although I was pissed off and furious at myself for putting myself in a vulnerable position, I realised that this negativity wasn’t helping. It was making me feel worse, and that’s when you can go down a spiral of thinking about other stuff from the past and who else has hurt, rejected or demoralised you.
So, I decided to do something very ordinary and productive, I did the dishes and while I was doing them as mindfully as possible, I said to myself, “you are feeling angry and stupid, and this is extremely painful, but you know you are not stupid, you are human being and you are allowed to feel these emotions of anger. We all feel this way sometimes as it is a normal part of life. I then said to myself –
“Sophie, you are a wonderful mother, you tried your best and good on you for that.” I then spoke to myself like I would to my child if they were upset. “I am sorry you are feeling this way, you have a big heart and you are going to make yourself a nice cup of tea, then sit down and soothe yourself.”
I placed my hands on my heart and really felt love and warmth for myself. It felt really good and nurturing, it was just what I needed, instead of festering then retaliating with unhelpful messages to him and the inner critic at myself.
I had calmed myself, regulated my emotions, loved myself and gave myself permission to feel my pain, and in turn it helped dissolve the anguish so much quicker and I felt proud of myself.
Physically loving ourselves by hugging your own body or gently rubbing your arms is a powerful way to demonstrate care for yourself. The feeling of touch helps us to be mindful and brings us in to the moment.
You can say to yourself, “I am physically loving you back to health”, so you can feel nurtured and begin to heal. In this moment, your connection to your self is uplifting, warm and good.
In summary, I hope you can remember and utilise the three following most important parts of giving yourself compassion –
Using these in times of huge pain, sadness and intense anger can help soften the overwhelming moment, one in which we can get stuck and continue to fester!
It is made up of three components known as self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
If you are struggling with understanding or practicing self compassion, I encourage you to enrol on my course and learn more. It’s never too late to begin being kinder and more loving to yourself.