This cultural moment is filled with anger, criticism, and shame. I find time and time again that myself among many others mercilessly judge and criticize ourselves and at times others, for numerous shortcomings and inadequacies. A popular phrase heard among clients in my office revolves around thoughts and feelings of not being good enough. We strive so hard to please our friends, our bosses, our significant others, and family and at one point or another, we feel we are inadequate. That we are lacking. In the psychology world, we call these unkind thoughts, the inner critic. This is our internal jury and judge, the voice that bullies us and tells you, you will never succeed, you are a burden, you are a failure, you are ugly. Our inner critic often leads us to spaces of guilt, loneliness, anxiety, and depression that can at times be debilitating.
There is good news my friends. You do not have to continue believing whatever your inner voice is telling you. Here are several steps you can take to begin showing yourself self-compassion.
- You must begin becoming aware of that inner critic. Instead of judging your thoughts, begin to simply observe and notice, without judgement. Think of them like a leaf floating down the river. Awareness will be key in change.
- Practice self-compassion. Kristin Neff shares that this practice involves being “gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental.” A good way to check in with yourself talk could be asking “is this how I would speak to a best friend?”
- Gently begin challenging. Approach your thoughts with openness and curiosity, and then begin to challenge with tangible thoughts. For example, if I am about to take a test, my inner critic may begin telling me I am stupid, I am going to fail, or that I have not done enough. Once I have named and observed some of these thoughts, I can begin speaking kind things over myself that challenge my previous thoughts which could include: “I have done well on other tests”, “It is normal to feel nervousness before a test”, “I can do hard things”, or “worse case, I fail and redo the test or do better on the next one”.
- Take action. Without taking action, we are often at risk of feeling disconnection, anger, overeating, and isolation. Brene Brown says that “shame is labeling our character and guilt is labeling our behavior.” In order to move away from a shame spiral, it may be helpful to talk to a trusted friend or family member. Shame loses its power when we begin to bring it into the light, serving as a reminder that we are not alone. Another option is to exercise or move your body, use positive affirmations involving: “I am enough”, “I am doing the best I can”, or “I can do hard things”.
All in all, you, my friend, are valuable and enough. I hope we can all begin speaking kinder, more gentle words over ourselves. For more resources check out Kristin Neff’s book: Self-Compassion, Brene Brown’s Ted Talk: “Listening to shame”, or Brene Brown’s book: Daring Greatly.
**The information contained herein is not therapeutic advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).