Transforming Our Inner Critic to our Inner Cheerleader
Self-criticism is the opposite of Self-compassion
Through mindful self-compassion we are working on changing a habit, the habit of self-criticism. Through our mindfulness practice we come to the realisation that this voice no longer serves us and is actually causing us more suffering. We learn to quieten the harsh, reproaching voice of our inner critic and take on a kinder tone with ourselves, which is more supportive and encouraging.
Rather than trying to stamp out the inner critic, through mindfulness we can start to observe. We can start to observe the dialogue of the inner critic with “open curiosity”. We are not trying to create another enemy – although due to the suffering caused by the inner critic it would be easy to see it as an enemy. However, when we start to look at the inner critic with open curiosity we start to wonder things like “I wonder where you come from?”, “Whose voice is this?”, “I wonder why you started speaking in the first place?”
Author, Hollie Holden, makes an insightful observation of our inner critic: “…this voice inside us is simply the most fearful, cut-off part of us trying (from a very old, outgrown and limited perspective) to keep us small, away from dangerous, risky situations that might crack us open.”
So I urge you to start to befriend your inner critic. Try to understand where the voice comes from and appreciate that the voice developed at some point in your early years to protect you. When your inner critic is harsh, perhaps you can ask “Why did you say that?”.
By reframing the inner critic this way – do you feel more able to show the inner critic compassion?
Self-compassion and self-talk
The biggest breakthrough that I had in self-compassion – in particular my “self-talk” – was when I started to spend time with my best friend’s three young children. When I was looking after them, I noticed that I used names like “darling” and “sweetpea” when I spoke with them. And I found within me a great patience and loving, caring attitude. I would encourage them when they needed it and comfort them when they fell.
Slowly this loving attitude and dialogue started to permeate my own self-talk. For example, when I misplaced my keys I would get frustrated and say to myself “idiot – why can’t you put them in one place when you come in! Now you are going to be late!!”. As my self-compassion practice evolved, I found myself instead saying things like “don’t worry sweetpea, relax, they will be somewhere. You managed to get into the flat so they must be somewhere.” These soothing words would generally calm me down and give me time to take a breath and of course the keys would turn up.
Self-compassion as motivation
Some people believe that self-criticism is a form of motivation – helping you change something that you do not like about yourself or your life (eg slightly overweight, not fit enough, not successful enough). However, I think we can all agree that self-criticism is not a motivator, it merely causes us to feel less confident and bad about ourselves – causing more suffering.
The wonderful news is that research has shown self-compassion to actually be a great motivator! The motivation of self-compassion stems from a desire for our own wellbeing. Thereby providing a supportive environment for change and a safe environment which allows us to see ourselves clearly and to detect destructive unhelpful patterns and make positive change, from a place of care and love.
Try it for yourself
Think of something that you would like to change in your life, something that your inner-critic can be quite hard on you for (eg you want to lose a few kilos, get fitter, progress at work). Now try to approach this situation with self-compassion, how would you, for example, encourage your best friend with this challenge?
Self-compassion is not easy. Research has shown that 86% of us find it easier to be compassionate towards others than ourselves! But with practice we can form the habit of self-compassion and ease our suffering and engage in joyful living.
The Double Arrow Sutra
One way to explore our self-talk through the lens of mindfulness is through The Double Arrow Sutra. Watch the video below to find out more: