What Do You Need to Hear Right Now? From Self-Criticism to Self-Compassion


compassion quoteWhen I bring up the concept of self-compassion to people, without fail, the same question always comes up:

“But what if I’m not doing well at (fill in the blank)?  Shouldn’t I be hard on myself to do better?”

My response is generally the same: “Well, how has being hard on yourself motivated you to do better?”

Somehow we’ve confused ourselves to think that our judgmental, self-critical voice plays some positive role in our lives.

Self-Criticism Is An Ineffective Motivator

If we think about criticism as a way to motivate a friend, child or loved one, we realize quickly how ineffective criticism really is. Most of the time we would never say the same things to others as we do ourselves.

Imagine a young child that falls when learning to ride a bike.  Or a friend venting about not meeting a work expectation, would we say: “That’s it.  Give it up, you’ll never get this”?  OUCH!  Probably not.  We may instead say “It’s ok.  This happens.  You’ll get this.  Keep trying.”

Hopefully we receive similar encouragement and support from our loved one’s when we’re feeling low.  But for some reason many people struggle showing themselves this same gentle kindness.

Does Self-Compassion Seem Strange?

I get it.  Showing compassion toward ourselves may feel awkward.

Anyone remember the Saturday Night Live skit “Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley?

Funny stuff, but that’s the idea…sort of.  I know, it can feel strange and maybe not so genuine to affirm ourselves like this.

Let me explain what self-compassion is.

Better yet, let me start with what it isn’t.

  • It’s not selfish. 
    Selfish is when a person lacks consideration for others and is primarily concerned with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.
  • It’s not over-indulgent.
    Over-indulgence is when a person yields to short term gratification without restraint or concern about the long term consequence.
  • It’s not self-pity.
    Self-pity is when a person perceives themselves as victim of adverse situations.

Here’s What It Is: The 3 Parts To Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is when we extend kindness and compassion to ourselves especially in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure or suffering.

Dr. Kristin Neff,  a pioneering researcher in self-compassion describes being self-compassionate as having 3 parts:

  • Noticing the moment of suffering
  • Acknowledging that suffering is part of the human experience we all share
  • Responding to the suffering with gentle kindness

Dr. Kristin NeffIn being self-compassionate we are trying to shift the harsh critical inner voice  to one that is more gentle.  Dr. Neff describes some of the research behind self-compassion:

“Research strongly supports the idea that self-compassion enhances motivation. For instance, many studies show that people who are self-compassionate are less depressed and anxious than self-critics, meaning their state of mind is more conducive to putting forth effort.”

For many of us a critical inner dialogue may be deeply engrained to the point that we may not even be able to imagine how to go about practicing self-compassion.

4 Step Guide to Becoming More Self-Compassionate

So, let’s practice with this step-by-step guide:

1 Reflect On A Moment Of Regret

First, think about a recent situation when you may have done or said something you wished you hadn’t. Notice the feeling that’s coming up, maybe it’s regret, guilt, or shame.  Notice also any words you may be saying about it.  Maybe it’s “I can’t believe I did that.” Or “I’m such a jerk”, etc.

2 Place Your Hand Over Your Heart

Now place your hand over your heart and say to yourself “This is a moment of suffering.”  Or “This hurts.”

3 Remind Yourself Of Your Humanity

Next is the common humanity piece, so say to yourself “Other people feel this way.” Or “I’m not alone.”

4 Offer Yourself Kindness

Now end with a statement of kindness.  This is the most challenging part for many people.

5 Reasons Why Accepting Compliments is Good for Women’s Health and Self-Esteem Ask yourself what you need to hear right now, or what you’d want a good friend to say to you, or what you would say in response to a good friend who was going through the same situation  Pick something that resonates with you – that feel authentic and comforting.

Here are some examples:

This will pass; It’s ok
I can be patient with myself
I will accept myself as I am
I will forgive myself

That’s it.

Does it take it all away? No. But shifting our inner dialogue from self-critical to self-compassionate helps to prevent a downward spiral that often begins with our negative thoughts, which in turn means less damage on our psyche.

Now go forth and be gentle.

2 responses to “What Do You Need to Hear Right Now? From Self-Criticism to Self-Compassion”

  1. Kristen says:

    Right on the mark and exactly what I needed to read- thank you! I have posted a print out of the photo with quote on my mirror.

  2. Shiri Macri says:

    Hi Kristen,
    I’m so glad this was helpful to you. The quote makes a great reminder to remember ourselves in our compassion practice.
    Take care,

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About the Author

Shiri Macri, MA, LCMHC

Since 2004, Shiri’s approach as a therapist for treating binge and emotional eating is holistic, focusing not only on the presented issue at hand but also considering overall health. Working in this way often includes mindfulness-based approaches. Now as a trained MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) teacher, Shiri’s love of mindfulness and meditation practices are at the forefront of her blog writings and recordings. Shiri is the Clinical Director at the Women's Center for Binge & Emotional Eating, affiliated with Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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