Imagine that a dear friend calls you in distress. How would you respond? What would you say? What would your tone of voice sound like? Now, consider how you talk to yourself when you are distraught, or when you’ve made a mistake. Do you treat yourself with the same kindness and warmth you would offer to a friend? Is it easier to be understanding and kind toward someone else than to yourself?
If you tend to approach yourself with criticism and harshness, consider how you can be a better friend to yourself. When you support a friend, you likely see your friend more holistically. You see your friend’s struggles and strengths. You see his/her mistakes in a broader context. You can be merciful toward your friend. How might you bring this Friend Mindset to your own self-observation?
Look back upon your most recent self-critical spiral and widen the lens on the internal scene. Notice that within you are the Inner Critic, the Criticized, and the Compassionate Self-Observer. Position yourself in the role of the Compassionate Observer watching the Inner Critic lash out at your Criticized Self. Exhale deeply as you listen to the Critic’s hateful spew. Bring your attention and kindness to the Criticized Self and offer a friend’s warmth and reassurance. Bring a soft attention to the Critic and see the helpful intention for self-improvement, even as you observe that the flogging is ineffective.
In doing this exercise, notice that self-compassion coexists with self-criticism. As self-compassion grows, self-criticism will become less hurtful, but it will likely still occur. The goal is not to eradicate self-criticism, but rather to buffer its harmful impact. Self-compassion creates an emotional barrier to keep self-loathing thoughts* at a distance. Self-compassion allows self-care and constructive accountability for meaningful self-improvement.
To take your self-compassion practice deeper, check out Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.
*If your self-loathing thoughts remain overpowering after regular practice of self-compassion, consider being evaluated for depression. Depression greatly amplifies the inner critic and may need psychotherapy and/or medication to be effectively treated.