“I’m not good enough.” “I’m not smart enough.” “I messed up again.” Does the voice in your head say this all the time? Studies in psychology show that we all have an inner critic – a sub-personality or part of us that judges and corrects our behavior. Though its role is to protect us from taking huge risks and encountering harm, the trouble is, this inner critic can get loud.
Kristin Neff of the Department of Educational Psychology, University of Texas, says, “Often, we’re so lost in the world of self-critic, that we don’t stop to realize that it’s really hurting us.” Constantly feeling dissatisfied, guilty, or feeling like things are not going well, not asking for help, are signs of negative self-talk affecting our self-esteem. The consequences range from inaction to binge eating, procrastination, and even depression.
Neff suggests bringing a sense of balance in how we see ourselves by applying self-compassion. Here’s how you can do it:
- Practice self-compassion. This involves showing care and understanding to yourself, rather than judging. Be aware of when your inner critic talks. Notice how you speak to yourself; would you talk to a close friend the same way? Managing this harsh voice goes a long way in reducing your stress, whether you are stuck in traffic, have an argument with your spouse or don’t get that job offer. You’ll spend less time pondering over events and reactivating them.
- Connect with what it means to be human. Neff suggests that instead of isolating yourself with criticism, you recognize that imperfections and failures are common to all of us. This will lead to greater acceptance of life-changes, which are painful. Be it losing your job or a serious illness. According to Neff, “When we say, this is normal, this is part of what it means to be human, that opens the door to grow from the experience. If we feel like it’s abnormal, this shouldn’t be happening, then we start blaming ourselves.”
- Embrace mindfulness. Find a balance between avoiding or ignoring a feeling and exaggerating negative or critical thoughts. Experience the feelings of self-criticism, like sadness, anxiety, or blame. But don’t identify with them as being permanent or being your personality. Mindfulness helps us accept what is happening in the now. It keeps us in touch with our deepest human values, which stress takes away from. It helps us understand what’s happening to us.
Self-criticism is important too and it will never completely go. The key is to not beat ourselves up for every mistake we make. And remember, how we treat ourselves, is how we treat others. So, who do you want to be?