What do you tend to do when you make a mistake? How do you talk to yourself? It is not uncommon that an inner storm of criticism erupts when a mistake is made. Take a minute to reflect on the last time you made a mistake. What did your inner critic say to you? What beliefs did you have about yourself? How did that feel? Inner critics open the floodgates of internal chaos. The physiological reaction to an inner critic involves fight, flight and/or freeze, which, in turn, may have a negative impact on well-being.
Imagine a person making a mistake and the inner critic saying things like, “You are dumb! What are you thinking? People already think you are stupid, what is your problem!” This inner dialogue may cause several reactions associated with fight, flight and freeze. For example, a fight reaction can include increased irritability, a flight response may cause avoidance and anxiety, and a freeze response can cause isolation and detachment. These reactions can lead to depression, anxiety and other problems, including problems in relationships. The good news is that with some practice and creativity, we can change the relationship we have with ourselves.
Imagine a person you care about making a mistake like the one that you thought of earlier. Imagine the person criticizing themselves the way your inner critic criticized you. What would you say to them instead? You may say something like, “It is OK, you will grow from this. You are human, and people make mistakes. You will do better next time, etc.” What are the feelings that may be associated with this change in dialogue? How may your view of yourself change?
The most important relationship is the one that we have with ourselves. Self-compassion is the art and practice of being your own best friend. Below are seven steps created in the field of positive psychology to help in the process of improving the relationship you have with yourself and quiet your inner critic to increase resilience. I encourage you to use a notebook and answer the following questions.
Step 1: Identify a recurring self-criticism. Think of a recurring self-criticism that you would like to overcome, something unkind or negative that you say to yourself about yourself. Perhaps you are critical of your appearance (e.g., a particular body part or facial feature), your abilities at work or your social skills. Write down what you are particularly self-critical about.
Step 2: Outline the extent of the self-criticism. Consider when this point of self-criticism comes up for you on a given day. When during the day does it specifically occur, and in what types of situations? What do you say to yourself when this situation shows up?
Step 3: Consider the miracle question. Suppose you woke up tomorrow morning, and by some miracle, you no longer talk to yourself in this negative, self-critical way (described in steps 1 and 2). Your relationship with yourself miraculously changed for the better. You are now genuinely kind toward yourself, like a good friend who loves you unconditionally. Since you were sleeping, you did not know this miracle had occurred, and when you woke up, you realized that the critical voice inside your head disappeared. What would be the first small sign that you were treating yourself differently? What else would you be doing differently after this miracle occurred? Try to think of things you would do (rather than not do).
Step 4: Consider self-compassionate language. Now, come up with some dialogue of what you would be saying to yourself as you go about your day. What language would you use to speak to yourself in a more kind and caring way? What tone of voice would you be using?
Step 5: Identify past examples of self-compassion. Has there been a time in your past when a glimpse of this miracle has occurred, and you treated yourself with kindness and understanding rather than harsh criticism? If so, describe the situation.
Step 6: Understand past instances of self-compassion. Regarding your answer in the previous step, what did you do to enable this miracle to occur at that time? What was different from normal?
Step 7: Take time for self-reflection. If this miracle came true and you were able to treat yourself more kindly, would your life change? If so, how? Would this change extend to your loved ones? Would their lives change as well?
If you have questions and would like to learn more about the practice of self-compassion, feel free to contact Psychological Services Bureau for support. You can call for a consultation or to make a confidential appointment at (213) 738-3500. To obtain additional information, you may visit our intranet site (http://intranet/intranet/ESS/Index.htm).