When you hear a loved one say something negative about themselves, what is your reaction? Usually, we’re quick to jump in with words of encouragement, a hug, or reassurance of all the ways in which they shine.
It feels easy to do this for the people we care about because their positive attributes are so clear to us. Showing compassion, acceptance and love to our closest friends and family just feels natural. Why, though, does it feel so difficult to lend this same compassion to ourselves?
For many, the answer to this question is the inner critic — that pesky voice in the back of your head that’s always telling you you’re not good enough. It works tirelessly to convince you of all the reasons that you don’t deserve love.
If your inner critic has been keeping you in the trap of negativity, then keep reading! We’re going to dive into some strategies for how to fight back and work towards self-compassion, healing and growth.
The first step towards any kind of growth is building awareness. This holds especially true when it comes to the critic. We may think we know our critic well — after all, it lives inside our own minds! In reality, though, true awareness takes a kind of concentrated energy that we don’t often engage in.
We need to dig deep to figure out where we’re most vulnerable for our critic to show up. While it can feel difficult to clearly identify our deepest vulnerabilities, our willingness to name and accept them is a powerful first step in disarming that negative voice.
Let’s walk through a quick exercise to help build your awareness.
When doing this exercise, remember to keep judgments at bay and do your best to stick to the facts. Much like a scientific investigator, take a curious approach to your critic, trying to gather as much information as you can. Don’t rush: the more you can learn about yourself and what’s really spurring your critic, the less power it holds.
Grab a notebook (or check out this guide) and let’s get to it!
We’re going to use the who, what, where, when, why and how format to get to know your critic. Write down your answers to these questions:
Mapping out our experience like this gives us a ton of awareness — and with this awareness we have data that we can work with. It’s in our human nature to jump straight into action when we sense there is something wrong, but the problem is that we often don’t have the full picture.
Awareness gives us that vital information we need to start taking action and cut the critic off at its root.
When inner criticism occupies your brain, it crowds out the antidote: self-compassion. As we build awareness, we slowly begin to push the critic out and open up space for love and kindness.
According to researcher Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion means treating ourselves with kindness and understanding — instead of judgment and criticism — when faced with failure or shortcomings.
Neff identifies 3 elements of self-compassion:
Self-compassion might feel foreign when you’ve been trapped in a critical mindset for so long. It can feel difficult to know where to start when it comes to intentionally practicing compassion - and that’s okay! When something pushes you outside of your comfort zone, it’s usually a sign that you’re growing.
While there’s no easy switch to flip to turn on your self-compassion, there are lots of ways you can begin to introduce it into your daily routines.
Our #1️ recommendation for bringing more kindness and compassion into your internal dialogue is using mantras. A mantra is simply a word or phrase repeated frequently. Mantras don’t have to be complex to be effective.
So, how can you come up with your own mantra?
Start by giving yourself a few more minutes to reflect on the negative things you hear your inner critic say. Write down your thoughts on paper. Now, turn the negative sentiment that you wrote into an encouraging message.
Here are some of our favorite examples:
Write your mantra somewhere you will see everyday, so you can go back to it whenever you hear the whispers of your inner critic.
Reframe Unhelpful Thinking Patterns
Look back to the who, what, where, when, why and how exercise you did earlier. In this exercise, we asked you to identify some thoughts you have when your critic feels especially intense. Usually there are some recurring thoughts that come up frequently: maybe along the lines of “I’ll never get it right” or “they must hate me” or “I should be better.”
These self-critical thoughts fall into what’s called an unhelpful thinking pattern: styles of thought that are biased and not true to reality. Here are the 10 common unhelpful thinking patterns:
Analyze your critical thoughts for evidence of these thinking patterns. When you spot one, work to reframe the thought into a more self-compassionate one by asking yourself questions like: Is there evidence to support my thought? What are the facts in this situation? What emotions might be spurring these thoughts? How can I think about this situation or myself in a more compassionate way? How might a friend respond to this thought?
When you can begin to shift your perspective away from those self-critical thoughts, you open up room for self-compassion in your mind and heart.
Loving kindness meditations and breathing exercises are a great way to ground yourself in the present, open up your capacity for self-acceptance, and overall boost your sense of wellness.
Through mindful breathing and thinking, these exercises are all centered around cultivating a benevolent energy towards the world, others and yourself.
There are a ton of ways to practice loving kindness. Don’t be discouraged if you struggle to stay focused and connected at first. The more you practice, the easier it becomes to lean into compassion and let it radiate throughout your day.
Our resident yoga instructor, Stephanie Bersh, E-RYT has a great meditation to get you started — it encourages you to shut down your inner critic while building up love and acceptance in your mind and body. Click here to download it for free!
The journey towards self-love does not happen overnight. It requires re-writing old narratives in your mind — and this takes time, energy and intention. When you hear your inner critic start to creep in, remind yourself of all of the beautiful things that come with choosing self-compassion: resilience, deeper relational connections, productivity, decreased stress, a higher sense of wellbeing and so much more.
So this Valentine’s season, choose YOU! The most important relationship in your life is the one you have with yourself. You are so deserving of the same compassion you give to those you love.
Don’t let your inner critic run your life any longer. Get to know it intimately so you can work to dismantle it. Make space and time for self-compassion - it’s the best gift you’ll ever give yourself!
For more support on breaking the cycle of criticism and working towards self-love, check out this free self-compassion guide.