I don’t believe there are many of us out there who enjoy being criticized by others, especially if it is hurtful. But, what about when we are critical to ourselves? From what I understand, we tend to be our own worst critics. You may be familiar with an inner critic that sounds something like: “you’re not good enough”, “you’re ugly,” “you have to try harder,” “you’re lazy,” and so on. The truth is, we probably all deal with this type of thinking at some point or another, and some struggle with this more often than others. A lot of us find it easier to be compassionate with others, especially those we are close to or love. I won’t argue that being compassionate to others is important, I truly believe it is and I also believe we can learn to be compassionate with ourselves.
Giving in and listening to the critical self can lead to a place of frustration, self-loathing, poor self-esteem, depression, anger and anxiety. This critical-self talk is something that is common and can be contested with using a few tools that are readily available inside each of us. A couple of these tools are called assertive anger and self-compassion.
To use assertive anger, you might imagine that you are speaking back to the critical self in a way that asserts your needs and expresses your pain. This can be done with actively writing things down to examine the thoughts more closely. Try writing down the words or phrases that occur along with how those things make you feel. Next, try identifying what you would need to hear instead in order to feel better. After writing these things down, you can talk back to the critical self in your thinking or out loud in an assertive manner (as long as no one else is around, right?). It can be beneficial to confront emotions verses avoiding them and this exercise can help with that. It may also be helpful to talk to someone with whom you can open up to, and feel safe around, about what you are thinking and feeling.
To begin using the tool of self-compassion, it is important to know what it means to be compassionate or have compassion for others. The phrase ‘put yourself in other’s shoes’ may be putting it lightly. We need to understand that others feel pain or suffer, just like us. When we acknowledge that others suffer and struggle with painful things, we can begin to feel compassion towards them and begin taking action to helping others. It is also important to understand that we all have problems, we are all human, we all make mistakes, and none of us are perfect. This means that we can feel compassion and understanding versus critically judging others, because we see mistakes as something that is shared in the human experience. Once we understand this, we can get better at being compassionate towards ourselves.
So, when you are getting down on yourself, or that critical voice is getting too loud, imagine what a kind, understanding and loving person would say to you, knowing that this person understands your struggles. It is not likely that the words spoken will be harsh or critical, but rather empathic, understanding, patient and kind. You will notice as you practice this, the words that you need to hear will come from a place of truth and may sound something like: “What you are going through right now is difficult,” “You are loved by others,” and/or “You have been through difficult things in the past and can do difficult things now” and so on. I think it is helpful to practice with this on a regular basis as our minds are good at what we do often.
If you or someone you know is experiencing critical thoughts in a way that feels unbearable or that interferes with daily living, seeing a primary care physician and or a mental health professional in your area is recommended. Reaching out to a professional can be a great way to help address and explore further options to address these types of thinking patterns.
Daniel Park is an LCSW, native to Idaho. He got his bachelor’s and master’s degree at Boise State University.