• 17 August 2020
  • Diong Zoe Yi

Tags: self-compassion; self-criticism; counselling Singapore

Why self-criticism is unhelpful

Many of us are no strangers to self-criticism. When things go wrong, it is common to blame ourselves first. Self-criticism can take the form of an inner voice saying things like: “why do I always screw up” or “I don’t deserve anything good”. It is usually punitive, pessimistic or resigned.

You may notice that self-critical thoughts often make us even more anxious or stressed, compounding our unhappiness with the situation with disappointment with ourselves.

Although self-criticism can act as a motivating force in the short term, research has shown that such persistent thoughts over time can be damaging and may result in depression and lowered self-esteem. It is easy to see how people who are self-critical would view themselves as inferior to others around them.

An inner voice was once an outer voice.

Over time, the outer voice has been internalised, however, it is not too late to break this. 

Benefits of compassion

There are many benefits to being accepting, kind and patient with yourself.

Being self-compassionate helps us to regulate negative emotions. Rather than being caught up in them, it allows one to process low moods, anxiety and stress more easily, and focus one’s energy on solving the problem at hand.

In addition, showing compassion to oneself teaches one to learn to try again, encouraging a growth mentality and allowing you to build resilience.

There are times when being self-critical leads us down a rabbit hole. 

For example, when we inadvertently embarrass ourselves in public speaking, we might think “oh no, I sounded so nervous and stupid. I will never do well in life.” It might cause us to withdraw or give up.

Practising self-compassion allows us to change this perspective. We might then think “It’s okay that this presentation didn’t go as well. I will learn from this and find ways to do better next time. With practice, I will get better at this, just like I have become skilled at other things.”

Being self-compassionate is not the same as being complacent, conceited or self-pitying.

Everyone makes mistakes. It is important to be patient with ourselves when we do too. Being compassionate to ourselves allows us to deal with situations in a more helpful manner and guides us to try again.

Techniques

1.

Be aware of your negative thoughts. Sometimes, as these thoughts are automatic, they make us feel bad even though we do not actively process them at the time. Hence, watch your thoughts closely. The next time you find yourself thinking “I’ll never be good enough”, label the thought as a negative one, and stop yourself there. Being mindful allows us to stop ruminating negative thoughts.

2.

Once you identify your negative thoughts, replace them with compassion. One way to do so is to respond to your critical inner voice as you would to a close friend uttering the same words.

Now, imagine that your friend is being self-critical out loud. Your friend says “I am a worthless idiot, and I will not be able to do this.” What would you reply? You might say to them: “You are not worthless! It was just one small mistake. People make mistakes all the time!

Most of us are encouraging and empathetic to those we love. Remember, you deserve the kindness you show to others, too.

3.

Another way to practise compassion with ourselves is to think of someone whom you think embodies the quality of compassion. It could be a family member or a fictional character. What would that person say to you if he or she was here? Emulate the tone and the words they might use.

4.

It always helps to prepare encouraging words or phrases during joyful moments and use them when negative thoughts hit. These reminders can be kept somewhere accessible, like on the back of your phone. For example, I like the quote “You are a match for your mountains.” It empowers and uplifts me immediately, and makes me more ready to take on a challenge. I have written the quote down and pasted it on my wall, and at times when I feel low, I remind myself that I have the strength to get through whatever I’m facing.

Being kind to oneself is a gradual, on-going process but it is worth the effort.

Seek guidance from a counsellor if you require more help to get through a challenging period.