Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Self-Criticism versus Self-Compassion

A lot of us are our own worst critics.  We're hard on ourselves.  We do it because it motivates us to achieve.  To go easy on ourselves is to become lazy and complacent.  Self-criticism is motivating because we are driven by our desire to avoid it.  We don't want to make a mistake and we don't want to fail because we dread having to face our own negative judgment.  We use self-criticism to shame ouselves into action.  Every endeavor comes with high stakes; anything less than total success leads to a barrage of self-condemntation.

The weapons of self-criticism are fear and shame.  Fear and shame tell us that we are inadequate and unable to cope with the environment.  Thus, what was intended to motivate action ultimately makes us too afraid to try. 

There is an alternative to self-criticism; it is called self-compassion.  Self-compassion is a way of relating to oneself.  Kindness and concern replace harsh words and ultimatums; comfort replaces condemnation.  Every human life has value; every human being deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.  We are no exception.  We are human; therefore, we have value and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.  This principle applies not only to how we should be treated by others but also to how we treat ourselves. 

Kristin Neff captures the essence of compassion: "Compassion...entails feelings of kindness, care, and understanding for people who are in pain, so that the desire to ameliorate suffering naturally involves recognizing the shared human condition, fragile and imperfect as it is."  Self-compassion, then, means offering kindness, care, and understanding to oneself when in pain. 

For some of us, this is  a surprisingly difficult thing to do.  A good way to start is by removing yourself from the equation.  Instead, imagine a friend faced with similar circumstances.  Would you tell him (or her) to stop whining and get over it?  Of course not!  Think about what you would say - perhaps words of comfort or support.  Once you've come up with something write it down.  Then, read what you've written to yourself out loud.  Do it a few times.  Set it down and come back later.  Read it again. 

Like anything, self-compassion takes practice.  Try to catch yourself being self-critical.  Say to yourself, "Oh yeah, I'm not doing that anymore.  I'm learning to be nice to myself."  Then give yourself some compassion instead. 


  1. It might help instead to be aware when one is in the "comparing mind," which usually comes in advance of self-criticism. It is hard to be self critical without comparing to others. And if hard to have self-compassion then try to have gratitude, which leads you back to it once you realize your importance to others that you are grateful for. Just ideas.

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