Nurturing Self-Compassion: How to Tame your Inner Bully

Imagine this scenario: you have an important job interview, you made it there early despite the traffic and you’re ready to give it your best shot. BUT…at the last minute, you realize you left your portfolio in the car.

What might you say to yourself in this moment of despair? Would your self-talk be kind and forgiving? Encouraging? Supportive? Or would you be more likely to criticize yourself, attaching harsh labels and judgments … “how could I be so stupid?! I need to get it together! I’ve blown my chances because I’m so careless! I’m so unprofessional.”

Consider the impact of the latter. You might believe that you need this stern inner critic to keep yourself in check, or that it’s necessary to motivate you or hold you accountable. However, you might be surprised to discover that the opposite is more typically true. Research suggests that adopting a self-critical stance is associated with reduced progress toward our goals. Not only that; it can also take a toll on our mental health. Those of us with strongly self-critical voices have higher levels of anxiety and depression and a reduced sense of wellbeing (Warren, Smeets, & Neff, 2016).

Look at it this way…we understand that bullying is problematic, and in fact many schools and institutions have adopted large-scale anti-bullying programs because of its detrimental impact. And yet, many of us continue to engage in harsh self-criticism with every little mistake we make, allowing our “inner critics” to take over and steer the ship. It is essentially a form of self-bullying.

What if you treated yourself with compassion instead? Practicing self-compassion means treating ourselves with a sense of care and understanding. Evidence shows that self-compassion not only reduces anxiety and depression, but is also linked to greater emotional well-being and resilience, and less fear of failure (Neff, Hseih & Dejittherat, 2005). Fortunately, it’s possible to develop self-compassion with mindful practice.

Perhaps you are asking yourself: how exactly can I go about turning down my self-critic’s microphone, and replacing my unhelpful thoughts with more adaptive ones?

Here are a few suggestions to start fostering a self-compassionate attitude:

  • Write down some encouraging words, or even craft a supportive letter to yourself when you are feeling bogged down by a negative situation or difficult emotion.
  • Visualize how you’d care for a good friend or a pet who was suffering. What would you say or do? Practice extending this same care toward yourself.
  • What do you find soothing? Listening to music? Being in nature? Hanging out with your pet? Curling up in a chair with a cozy blanket? Nurture yourself by spending at least 10-15 minutes engaging in an activity that creates this sense of soothing.
  • Remind yourself that you’re not alone; that others in this very moment are in exactly the same situation you’re in and feeling exactly the same way you’re feeling right now. A sense of solidarity in your experience is an important component of self-compassion described by leading self-compassion expert, Dr. Kristen Neff.
  • Engage in a self-compassion meditation exercise. You can find a link to some guided exercises on our Resource Page.
If you’re having trouble extending compassion to yourself, reach out for help. Exploring roadblocks to self-compassion with a supportive therapist can be life-changing; our team of skilled therapists at The Mindful Living Centre are here for you!

Ms. Erika Ristok

Erika Ristok is a registered Social worker (RSW) at The Mindful Living Centre, working collaboratively with clients seeking to better cope with life’s challenges.

References:

Neff KD, Hseih Y, Dejittherat K. (2005). Self-compassion, achievement goals, and coping with academic failure. Self Identity, 4(3), 263-287.
Warren, R., Smeets, E. & Neff, K. (December 2016). Self-criticism and self-compassion: Risk and resilience. Current Psychiatry, 15(12), 18-33.