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Are you your own worst critic?

By Leonie Patrice – Registered Psychologist

Are you hard on yourself when you don’t match up in some way – in your achievements, career or study, social standing, relationships, appearance, body image, financial status, etc?
Why do we find it so difficult to treat and speak (in our inner dialogue) to ourself in a kind or caring way?
Why are we great at self-criticism, but struggle when it comes to self-kindness or self compassion?

Kristen Neff defines compassion as: “the recognition and clear seeing of suffering…feelings of kindness for people who are suffering, so that the desire to help-to ameliorate suffering-emerges….recognising our shared human condition, flawed and fragile as it is”.

Self compassion then is directing this attitude of kindness internally to ourselves. Although on the surface this seems obvious our brains have evolved as part of our survival to judge that when we don’t feel good something is wrong. The self critic is excellent at pointing to what is wrong with us. This is not helpful and leads to us creating an internal threat and robs us of thoughts and feelings that could most help us return to well being.

There are four key aspects of Self compassion:

  • Awareness -the sensitivity or attention to the inner experience that suffering is occurring, either some distress and struggle with emotional pain, physical or mental pain or all these.
  • Kindness -meeting this pain with feelings of concern warmth, care and kindness, without ignoring or shying away from our pain.
  • Normalising – experiencing pain is universal and human- it does not mean it is a fault or a failing of ours. We are not to blame for our pain and even though we often isolate ourselves when in pain, we all experience pain at some point to varying degrees and are not alone in our pain.
  • Alleviation – Focussing our energy on ways to alleviate the pain – which may be via providing a helpful perspective regarding whatever the trouble is, providing further caring actions and comfort, or having the courage and strength to take other necessary actions in facing the problem.

Why is self-compassion important?

Evolutionary Significance -The success of the human race as a species has depended on us being motivated to give care to others and on us receiving this care. When humans work and support each other we flourish. Learning to nurture ourselves is also very important.

Well Being and Mental Health Benefits: Research studies have shown those who are more compassionate towards themselves tend to have less mental health problems like anxiety, depression and stress. Compassion is linked to the hormone oxytocin often called the “love” hormone. Directing compassion inward can trigger oxytocin and the calming benefits it brings as well as contributing to general life contentment.

Self compassion is a learned skill for most of us and an integral part of the skill set Leonie teaches clients for being able to re-establish feelings of happiness and resilience.