How often do you find yourself being self-critical or judgmental when experiencing a perceived inadequacy, failing, or personal shortcoming? It can happen at any time without our awareness. Unnoticed moments of suffering in which we think:
“I was rejected, why did I think I had a chance?”
“I’m not good enough.”
“I can’t find a date. It’s probably because I’m ugly!”
“I can’t do anything right.”
“Why did I say that? I sounded so stupid!”
“I’m a failure.”
Excessive levels of self-judgment can prevent individuals from doing new things, being assertive, being authentic and open, or believing in themselves. Research shows that higher levels of negative self-talk are associated with anxiety and depression (Neff, 2013). This tendency to be hard on ourselves has to do with our personal experiences and formed attachment (secure vs. insecure) to caregivers when we were young. Attachment theory explains how our emotional and physical attachment to primary caregiver influences personal development and adult relationships.
Once we are aware of our self-criticism and suffering, we can use self-compassion to help relieve some of the emotional hurt. According to psychologist Kristin Neff, self-compassion is having feelings of kindness, warmth, and empathy with oneself when suffering and feeling pain. She identifies three important components of self-compassion that include self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.
SELF-KINDNESS VS. SELF-JUDGMENT.
Self-compassion includes being kind and loving with ourselves when we suffer, do not succeed, or feel inadequate, instead of dismissing our hurt and punishing ourselves with self-judgment. Individuals who are understanding and accept their imperfections and life challenges are more likely to feel emotional self-control and self-acceptance.
COMMON HUMANITY VS. ISOLATION.
Disappointment and frustration can be experienced when our expectations do not meet reality. When we see ourselves as alone in our suffering, we can feel alienated and isolated from others. By being accepting of our common humanity, we acknowledge that being human means that one is mortal, vulnerable, and imperfect just like everyone else.
MINDFULNESS VS. OVER-IDENTIFICATION.
Mindfulness is a non-judgmental mind state that allows individuals to observe their thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress them. Accepting, rather than denying painful feelings like sadness, anger, and fear can help prevent over-identification with thoughts and feelings, so that we are not taken away by our negative reactions.
Self-compassion can help individuals feel more content and happy with their lives. After all, happiness is an emotion that can be self-created in any moment regardless of where we are, what it is self-pity, self-indulgent, or even selfish to be kind to oneself. In reality, compassion for the self is as important as having compassion for others.
If you are being trapped in the cycle of self-judgment, contact a therapist to help cultivate self-compassion and improve your mood.
Ernestina Perez, LPC
Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. Sounds True. http://self-compassion.org/