Inner Critic: The Anecdote

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to have freedom from the constant stream of self-criticism? What if instead of an inner-critic you had a compassionate-self? 

In order to make that transition, it’s important to understand what might be happening.  Our inner-critic is often trying to help.  It wants to motivate us to do better and to BE better. 

According to the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (2020), the problem is that the inner-critic actually leads us to getting stuck in cycles of shame, self-hatred, fear, and anxiety. 

The solution is to cultivate a compassionate-self; a source of safety, motivation, and inspiration.  Self-compassion neutralizes self-criticism and reduces shame.

Let’s talk more about the internal shame response. 

According to the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (2020), when we experience shame, we have an internal fight, flight, or freeze response.  The internal fight response manifests in self-criticism and self-blame.  The flight response includes distraction and isolation.  And the internal freeze response manifests in rumination and over-identification. Shame feels blameworthy, makes us feel separate and alone, and feels permanent and all-encompassing. 

The good news is that none of this is true. 

The truth is that shame is an innocent emotion, connects us to the rest of humanity, is temporary, and only reflects a part of our experience (National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine, 2020).

Here is the best part. You have the power to transform shame through self-compassion! 

Dr. Kristen Neff developed a simple practice to help us understand how to directly target and neutralize the three main components of shame (i.e., over-identification, isolation, and self-judgement) with self-compassion.  She calls it the Self-Compassion Break. 

The three components are mindfulness (which neutralizes over-identification), common humanity (which neutralizes isolation), and self-kindness (which neutralizes self-judgement) (National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine, 2020). 

Let’s look at each component of the Self-Compassion Break, as defined by Dr. Kristen Neff, so that you can use it the next time you find yourself experiencing shame. 

  • Mindfulness means recognizing the current struggle as temporary. 
  • Common humanity is recognizing that you are not alone and that everyone experiences suffering. 
  • Self-kindness is offering yourself supportive touch (e.g., placing your hand over your heart or crossing your arms with your hands on the opposite elbows in a sort of hug) and words of kindness (National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine, 2020).

Now give it a try! Place your hands gently over your heart and say, “This is a difficult moment.  This is part of the human experience.  May I offer myself the kindness and compassion I need,” (National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine, 2020).

Resources

Find out how self-compassionate you are by taking Dr. Kristen Neff’s test: https://self-compassion.org/test-how-self-compassionate-you-are/

Learn more about Dr. Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion Break by watching her short video: https://self-compassion.org/exercise-2-self-compassion-break/

Find free guided meditations, self-compassion exercises, tips for practice, and other resources here: https://self-compassion.org/ (“Practices” tab)

References:

National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine. 2020. Master series on the clinical application of compassion. [Webinar].

Post by Hayley Downey

Written by on February 15, 2020.

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