Choosing self-compassion over criticism

Susan Stovall, LMHC, staff clinician, guides us through developing emotional resilience and the benefits of a healthier internal dialogue.

The cost of self-judgement.
When we judge ourselves we pay a huge price. The costs include shame, worthlessness, not feeling good enough, anxiety and depression. We beat ourselves up, which causes us to feel inadequate and insecure, which leads to taking our frustrations out on the people closest to us. It prevents us from truly seeing ourselves and others.

We also assume our partners are as critical of us as we are, which can lead to conflict in those relationships or seeking out people who validate the negative things we think about ourselves.

Biological impact of self-criticism.
Our amygdala is designed to detect threats in the environment and trigger the fight-or-flight response. When we criticize ourselves, it increases our blood pressure, adrenaline and secretes cortisol to avoid the threat. The body is activated for physical and emotional attacks, whether the attack is self-inflicted our coming from another source. Over time, increased cortisol levels lead to depression, by depleting various neurotransmitters involved in the ability to experience pleasure.

Another way … Compassion!
We have to stop trying to label ourselves as “good” or “bad” and simply accept ourselves with an open heart. We need to treat ourselves with the same kindness, caring and compassion we would show to a good friend, or even a stranger for that matter. We have to care about ourselves before we can really care about other people. 

Compassion involves the recognition and clear seeing of suffering. It’s sharing feelings of kindness with people who are suffering and recognizing our shared human condition. Compassion allows us to feel more connected to others who are just as flawed and vulnerable as we are and let go of the need to feel better than others.

An exercise in self-compassion.
The next time you feel yourself being critical of an action or decision you made, consider taking a self-compassion break. Rather than condemning yourself for mistakes and failures, use the experience to soften your heart. Let go of unrealistic expectations of perfection that make you so dissatisfied by giving yourself compassion you need in the moment.

The core components of self-compassion.
The core of compassion is self-kindness, recognition of common humanity and mindfulness.

We have to stop the constant self-judgment and disparaging internal commentary that most of us have come to see as normal and shift to understanding our failures instead of condemning them. It’s about seeing the extent to which we harm ourselves through relentless self-criticism and ending our internal war.

Suffering = Pain x Resistance

Suffering stems from comparing our realities to our ideals. We can’t avoid pain in life, but we don’t necessarily have to suffer because of that pain. We can distinguish between the normal pain of life—difficult emotions, physical discomfort, loss, etc.—and suffering, which is the mental anguish caused by fighting against the fact that life is sometimes painful.

Whenever you notice that you are in pain, you have three potential courses of action ...

  • You can give yourself kindness and care
  • You can remind yourself that encountering pain is part of the shared human experience
  • You can hold your thoughts and emotions in mindful awareness

Benefits of self-compassion.
Those who are able to steer themselves away from negative thoughts, see:

  • Emotional resilience
  • Less anxiety and depression
  • Thoughts are observed but not necessarily believed
  • Increased pleasure and joy
  • Improved self-worth

Motivation and personal growth.
Consider that mind-state that self-criticism causes. If you call yourself “lazy” or “worthless,” will you be energized and inspired? We motivate those we love by bending over backwards to let them know we believe in them, yet we often take the exact opposite approach with ourselves. Self-criticism asks if you’re good enough whereas self-compassion asks what’s good for you and taps your inner desire to be healthy and happy.

Self-compassion softens how you react if things don’t go as you had hoped, which actually helps you reach your goals in the long run. So, please be kind to yourself.



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