Self-Compassion Can Quiet Our Inner Critic
The best way to make friends with our inner critic is through understanding the science of self-compassion. The inner critic refers to the voice inside our head that judges our thoughts, actions, and/or appearance. “‘I’ve never met a person who doesn’t have an inner critic,’ psychologist Steven C. Hayes tells The Washington Post. This inner voice of criticism isn’t a choice; embedded in each person’s nervous system.
We use self-criticism to motivate ourselves to drive forward or stay safe. However, it turns out that a critical inner voice is an ineffective way to change our own behavior. Research conducted at Stanford University shows that self-criticism is more destructive than helpful. Moreover, the more that people disparage themselves, the slower their progress toward reaching a goal.
Self-criticism actually shifts our brain into a state of self-inhibition and self-punishment. For example, our inner critic causes us to disengage from our goals because we feel threatened and demoralized. In the end, self-criticism makes us more likely to end up stuck in a cycle of procrastination and self-loathing. Even when we are able to push through this, it still saps emotional energy that could be used more productively.
Self-compassion is the antidote to self-criticism. It improves overall mental health, making you more resilient and optimistic about the future. That is to say, self-compassion is a way for our inner voice to become more of a supportive friend. Offering ourselves Lovingkindness helps us feel safe and accepted. When we feel secure, we can see ourselves clearly and make the changes we need to make to become healthier and happier.
Evidence-Based Benefits of Self-Compassion
There are 3 main components to understanding the science of self-compassion.
- Self-Kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding, and to offer yourself soothing and comfort in the face of suffering.
- A sense of Common Humanity means recognizing that all humans are imperfect and we all make mistakes.
- And finally, Mindfulness is a form of self-awareness that sees painful feelings in a clear and balanced manner. This form of self-compassion neither ignores or fixates on self-criticism.
Combining the three components above creates self-compassion. This allows you to be easier on yourself when your suffering occurs through no fault of your own. It also helps you support yourself when the external circumstances of life are simply too difficult to bear and eases the suffering that you cause for yourself.
Moving out of self-criticism to a place of self-compassion is a gentler and more effective way to reach your goals and become the person you would like to be. Offering ourselves compassion creates the feeling of internal safety that allows us each to blossom and thrive.