Most people probably know this inner critic. It is an irritating voice coming out whenever we fail or things don’t turn out as planned or we just don’t feel well. This voice then tells us something like “You should have known better. Pull yourself together. Don’t be so sensitive.” Some may say they need their inner critic or they may fell like the criticism is legitimate. But self-criticism usually creates more fear of failure and leaves us feeling uncomfortable and full of doubts.
Self-compassion, a term coined by psychology professor Dr. Kristin Neff and based in Buddhist philosophy offers a different approach to treat oneself. According to Neff, self-compassion includes three components: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. Self-kindness describes the attitude of being kind, understanding and patient towards your own mistakes and weaknesses. Common humanity acknowledges negative experiences as common to being human. No one is different from the others regarding experiencing failure, inadequacy or suffering some time in life. Mindfulness refers to mindfully handling and accepting our own emotions and thoughts instead of suppressing them or overidentifying with them. Thus, self-compassion describes a more self-caring attitude via treating oneself similar to how one would treat a good friend. When we feel inadequate, suffer or struggle with failure a good friend would try to be understanding and kind, console us and help ease the pain.
Some may think: “But I don’t want to wallow in self-pity and feel weak and helpless. My inner critic at least pushes me on.” However self-compassion is no self-pity. Self-pity includes believing to be unable to cope with a difficult situation, to lack confidence and to sink into negative feelings and thoughts. Self-criticism is linked to suppressing uncomfortable thoughts or feelings, but these just get stronger when we avoid them. Instead with a self-compassionate attitude one would acknowledge the situation as difficult and the experienced pain as part of reality while looking for a way to do something about it. Self-pity and self-criticism are emotionally consuming and energy wasting while making coping even more difficult by being stuck in ruminating and feeling bad. By being more patient and forgiving and less strict towards oneself other perspectives open up and one is left with more of the energy you need to overcome a difficult situation. Thus self-compassion helps us taking responsibility and persisting to keep going or try again when facing a challenge. Being self-compassionate is no weakness but helps taking care of oneself, making us more independent. It leads to more resilience, a better well-being and more motivation. By not suppressing uncomfortable feelings and thoughts it can also lead to feeling more pain, but that is part of accepting what is part of life and reality. Through self-compassion we can gain more serenity and self-confidence, which makes it easier too to ask for help and to find compromise in relationships to others.
For most people it is easier to be compassionate with others than with oneself but in contrast to the inner critic, an inner friend has much more to offer. So the next time your inner critic raises its voice how about taking a deep breath and thinking about how a good friend would react instead. Over time you will gain a new good friend in yourself. And that is a very good thing, after all one’s own self is the one person who is always there with us.