Self-criticism vs self-compassion

You're such an idiot! You are such a failure! You are not good enough!

Would we talk to a child, friend or loved one like this? Of course not. Yet, as imperfect human beings, we can go about our daily lives listening and engaging to our inner critic to the point where it can start to impact our mood. Usually, it can present with irritability, anxiety or fear. On top of that, it can result in a change in behaviour to try and cope with how we are thinking and feeling in that moment. This can often lead us to avoid or withdraw from tasks or interactions or even the opposite by excessively doing something to overcompensate for how we are feeling. For example, avoid making decisions to try and please others so they don't reject us. We all have our individual strategies for managing our inner self critic when the running negative commentary gets louder and louder. 

When it comes to relating to our loved one in that moment our initial response might be to provide support, reassurance, a comforting hug, encouraging words of kindness and let them know that if things don't always go the way we planned it doesn't deem us a failure as an individual. 

How many of us are compassionate to ourselves?

When our inner critic is really loud, frequent and intense it can be really hard to not start to believe and engage with such negativity. It is like a friend that doesn't have your best interest at heart constantly highlighting all the things that are not going well, could go wrong and it is all your fault. When we are aroused, our sympathetic part of our nervous system linked to stress and cortisol gets activated. This can impact our ability to bring online our parasympathetic part of our nervous system linked to self-soothing.

So, what is compassion? "Compassion is having a sensitivity to the suffering of ourself and others in the world and having an intention to try and alleviate it" - Dalai Lama.

Three key elements of compassion:

Self-kindness which refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental. Instead of taking a cold ‘stiff-upper-lip’ approach in times of suffering, self-kindness offers soothing and comfort to the self.

Shared common humanity involves acknowledging as humans we are imperfect, fail and make mistakes. It connects our ability to take larger perspective towards one’s personal shortcomings and difficulties.

Mindfulness involves being aware of one’s distressing feelings in a clear and balanced manner so that one neither ignores nor obsesses about disliked aspects of oneself or one’s life.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

Share this article with a friend

Written by a listed counsellor/therapist

Show comments

Find the right counsellor or therapist for you

All therapists are verified professionals.