How to quiet your own harsh internal critic


Compassion towards self is one of the most helpful coping tools. An individual practicing self-compassion can not only overcome stress more easily, they are usually more calm, resilient and empathetic towards others. Needless to say, children benefit immensely from parents who can master this art. Today’s newsletter is an attempt to explain the concept and basics of self-compassion.

<<Excerpt Begins>> by Carrie Wilkens, psychologist and author

Have you ever said to yourself, “I shouldn’t be so mad about this,” “I should be able to handle this and it’s pathetic that I can’t,” or “I can’t handle feeling so lost,” or “I should be able to just get over this and move on.” These statements may be all too familiar if you are someone who feels upset, scared or angry when you have negative or painful feelings (i.e., when you suffer).

Unfortunately, when your harsh internal critic charges after you during times of vulnerability or suffering, it tends to amplify the pain associated with living life. And the increased pain can create an even stronger desire to avoid your pain and suffering all together. It’s not uncommon for people turn to drugs, alcohol, food, spending, sex, isolating and a variety of other strategies in an attempt to get away from emotional or physical pain. The reality is that these strategies bring problems of their own (physical dependency, poor health, debt, loneliness etc), leading to a spiral of suffering that can seem never ending.

Suffering as an aspect of life experienced by all humans, and when you embrace this concept, you can start to find some self-compassion instead of judgement or criticism (something you don’t really need when you are suffering!!). Self-compassion involves noticing your suffering (e.g., becoming aware of shame, sadness, stress, anger, etc.) and practicing self-kindness during these painful moments.

By practicing self-compassion when experiencing suffering, you can learn to be with it and care for yourself instead of potentially causing yourself even more suffering. Practicing kindness toward oneself is an important element of self-care. It contributes to the “oxygen” you need to manage difficult situations and to deal with the pains of life in a healthier manner.

The following exercises are borrowed from the work of one of the leading researchers on the benefits of self-compassion, psychologist Dr. Kristin Neff. As you engage in these exercises notice any judgments that may arise (e.g., “What’s the point of this?” “This is not going to work”, “This is silly”, etc.). As with any other new skill we try for the first time, the practice of self-compassion may feel strange at first. With practice, these exercises will begin to feel more natural. Hang in there and practice despite the initial awkwardness because your effort will likely be rewarded. Research demonstrates self-compassion to be associated with higher levels of wellbeing. The more you practice the better. Begin incorporating these skills into your daily life so that you feel more fully prepared to practice them when you are in the midst of a difficult situation.

Self-Compassion through words.

Mantra: Create and memorize 3 statements that reflect an attitude of self-compassion. Practice reciting these thoughts during difficult moments.

Sample Mantra:

  • I’m having a really hard time right now.
  • This is part of being human.
  • May I be kind to myself in this moment.

Work to recognize the presence of suffering.

Choose one of the following or create your own

  • This is a moment of suffering.
  • I’m having a really hard time right now.
  • It’s painful for me to feel this now.

Remind yourself that we all face painful experiences.

Choose one of the following or create your own

  • Suffering is a part of life.
  • Everyone feels this way sometimes.
  • This is part of being human.

Express intention of kindness toward yourself.

Choose one of the following or create your own

  • May I be kind to myself in this moment.
  • May I hold my pain with tenderness.
  • May I be gentle and understanding with myself.
<<Excerpt Ends>>
<<Excerpt Begins>> by Ms. Lori Deschene, author and founder (Tiny Buddha)

If you’re also looking to increase your capacity for self-soothing so you can depend less on validation from others, you may find these ideas helpful:

1. Make a “you” section in your daily gratitude journal.

Of course, this assumes you already keep a gratitude journal to recognize and celebrate all the good things in your day. If you don’t, you can still take a few minutes every day to give yourself some credit.

Note down the things you’ve done well, the choices you’ve made that you’re proud of, the progress you’ve made, and even the things that required no action at all—for example, the time you gave yourself to simply be.

When you regularly praise yourself, self-validation becomes a habit you can depend on when you need it the most.

2. Before seeking external validation, ask yourself, “What do I hope that person tells me?” Then tell it to yourself.

Odds are, you aren’t always looking for someone’s advice or opinion when you come to them with a painful story. You’re looking for them to confirm you didn’t do anything wrong—or if you did, that you’re not a bad person for it.

Essentially, you’re looking for someone else to see the best in you and believe in you. Give yourself what you’re seeking from them before making that call. Then by all means, make it if you want to.

The goal isn’t to stop reaching out to others. It’s to be there for yourself.

The words you want to hear from someone else will be far more powerful if you fully believe what they’re saying.

3. Recognize when you’re judging your feelings.

If you’re in the habit of feeling bad about feeling down or insecure, or generally having emotional reactions to emotions, you will inevitably end up feeling stuck and helpless.

Get in the habit of telling yourself, “I have a right to feel how I feel.” This will help you understand your feelings and work through them much more easily, because you won’t be so deeply embedded in negativity about yourself.

Once you’ve accepted your feelings, you’ll then be free to seek support for the actual problem—not your self-judgment about having to deal with it.

4. See yourself as the parent to the child version of you.

I know this one might sound odd—bear with me! Many of us didn’t receive the type of love, support, and kindness we needed growing up, and this may have taught us to treat ourselves harshly and critically.

When you’re looking for that warm, fuzzy feeling that emerges when someone you trust tells you, “Everything is going to be okay,” imagine yourself saying it to your younger self.

Picture that little kid who tried so hard, meant no harm, and just wanted to be loved and cherished. This will likely help in deflating your self-criticism and fill you a genuine sense of compassion for yourself.

Once again, this doesn’t need to be an alternative to seeking compassion from others; it just provides a secure foundation from which you’ll be better able to receive that.

5. Get in the habit of asking yourself, “What do I need right now?”

Oftentimes, when we’re feeling down on ourselves, we feel a (sometimes subconscious) desire to punish ourselves. When we reject or deprive ourselves in this way, we exacerbate our feelings, because we then feel bad about two things: the original incident and the pain we’re causing ourselves.

If you’re feeling down, or down on yourself, ask yourself: “What does my body need? What does my mind need? What does my spirit need?” Or otherwise expressed: What will make you feel better, more stable, healthier, and more balanced?

You may find that you need to take a walk to feel more energized, take a nap to feel better rested, practice deep breathing to clear your head, or drink some water to hydrate yourself.

This is validating yourself in action. Whenever you address your needs, you reinforce to yourself that they are important, regardless of whatever you did or didn’t do previously.

One more thing has helped me tremendously in validating myself: accepting that it’s okay to need reminders like these. There was a time when I saw this as something shameful—an indication that other people who seemed self-assured were somehow better than me.

I wondered why self-kindness didn’t always come instinctively. But when I stopped judging myself, I remembered all the experiences that helped shape my critical inner voice. It wasn’t a sign of weakness that I needed to put in some effort; it was a sign of strength that I was willing to do it.

It’s one of life’s great ironies, that it feels so natural to feel bad about feeling bad. All this does is keep us stuck. When we stop blaming ourselves for having room to grow, we’re free to focus our energy on doing it.

<<Excerpt Ends>>

Hope you enjoyed reading this article 🙂

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