How do you feel about the relationship you have with that voice inside your head? Do you have a positive supportive relationship with this voice or is it your worst critic?
with Cynthia C Hakutangwi
Do you derive a sense of self-worth from performance or perfection? When witnessing someone else’s suffering or hardship, you may be moved by their pain. You may be moved enough to offer comfort, concern, and well wishes. Compassion for them and their situation leads you to offer a listening ear, a comforting hug, or maybe some kind words of encouragement. Now, consider for a moment as to how you respond to yourself when you’ve messed up or haven’t done something quite right. Do you offer yourself the same level of care? Do you show kindness, care, warmth, and understanding toward yourself when faced with shortcomings, inadequacies, or failures?
How did you develop your values?
Values are a collection of guiding principles and they determine what we deem to be correct and desirable in life. They create our subconscious scoring guide through which we assess and rate others and ourselves as worthy or ideal. Depending on our environment and the values we were taught growing up, we will develop our inner guiding voice and there is a tendency for it to be harshly self-critical. We take the values we grew up with (such as performance) and if our perception of ourselves does not correlate with our values (“I did not do well enough; I should have done better”), we tend to deem ourselves unworthy.
In the long run, this subjective and self-critical perception of how we live up to these values has an impact on our sense of self-worth which in turn determines whether the voice in our head is kind and supportive or destructive and devaluing. Unfortunately, the perception we have of ourselves also influences our behaviour, which means we create our own self-fulfilling prophecy, never living up to the “good enough” value. Our thoughts, and particularly how we perceive ourselves, greatly impacts on our well-being. We can lessen the impact our values have on us by learning to change the view we have of ourselves. At the centre of working with the inner critic is the idea of self-compassion
Can you practice self-compassion?
Self-compassion is the care and nurturing we offer ourselves when we make mistakes, embarrass ourselves, or come short of a goal we were hoping to achieve. It is the acknowledgment of our pain, and the rejection of the notion that we should just “tough it out.” Having self-compassion means to honour and accept your own humanness and accept that in life, you will encounter a number of unfortunate circumstances, sometimes where you’re the one at fault. Self-compassion is having grace for oneself.
Ways to tackle the inner critic
Self-criticism can lead to lowered self-esteem, anxiety and depression. We need to turn our inner critic into a gentle supporter. Here are some ways you can deal with the inner critic:
Practice forgiveness: Stop punishing yourself for your mistakes. Accept that you are not perfect and be gentle with yourself when you are confronted with your shortcomings. Self-kindness means being kind, gentle and understanding with yourself when you’re suffering. Surround yourself with messages that affirm you and memorise a set of compassionate phrases that really resonate with you.
Employ a growth mindset: Having a fixed or growth mindset influences our happiness. Do you view challenges as insurmountable obstacles or as chances to grow? Become aware of your view of the world and try to employ a growth mindset. Embrace rather than avoid challenges, persist in finding meaning in them, don’t give up on yourself. When you find you are criticising yourself in comparison with others, try to find inspiration in their successes and strengths instead of feeling threatened.
Express gratitude: Feeling a sense of gratitude is very powerful. Rather than wishing for what we do not have, there is a lot of strength in appreciating what we do have, right now. You can choose to write a gratitude journal or go for gratitude walks. By focusing on our blessings we employ a gentler voice and move the focus away from ourselves and our shortcomings and out to the world with all its beauty.
Find the right level of generosity: Givers are the most generous people and generosity is a great way of employing compassion. However, givers can be both the most successful and the most unsuccessful of people as they may fall into a pattern of selfless giving, ignoring their own needs. When being generous, make sure you are aware of your own needs before progressing. It is important to consciously choose the person, the resources you have available and your level of energy based on what is in surplus to your own wellbeing. Doing good for others makes us happy, but only if it does not reduce your own wellbeing.
Are you loving from an empty tank?
Research has consistently shown a positive correlation between self-compassion and psychological well-being. People who have self-compassion also have greater social connectedness, emotional intelligence, happiness, and overall life satisfaction. Self-compassion has also been shown to correlate with less anxiety, depression, shame, and fear of failure. You can only give what you are full of. People who lack self-compassion often exhibit a pattern of unhealthy relationships. How you treat yourself reflects how you let others treat you. If you’re unkind to yourself, you create a standard for how much abuse you accept from others and as a result end up attracting abusive and disrespectful relationships.
If we hold ourselves to impossible standards, if we never give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, chances are we will have trouble doing so for others. And thinking about others’ feelings and giving others breaks are key skills for developing solid relationships. When we have self-compassion, we are less likely to depend on others to validate our self-worth.