How often do you hear yourself say things like “I am not good enough for this” or “I am so lazy” or “I can never get this right”?
Our inner voice is supposed to be our compass, helping us navigate life circumstances, guiding us through our daily decision making and reassuring us of the collective inner wisdom stored in our human DNA. But what if this inner voice no longer serves us as an ally? That’s when we constantly evaluate ourselves harshly, allowing it to slowly corrode our sense of self-esteem and self-worth. This creates a downward spiral, stagnating us and impeding our growth.
Given that we already know this by virtue of our experiences, why do we still criticise ourselves? Rewind into your childhood, think about your relationship with your parents or caregivers. Think about the times when they used harsh or cruel words in order to improve your behaviour e.g. chiding you to study hard and leading you to believe that only if you succeeded academically you would receive their affection.
Did this help you or sow seeds of a limiting belief? This is where the punitive act of self-criticising began. We still believe that self-criticising can help us right the wrongs of our past, be acceptable by others and live up to higher standards – all conditions that are pretty unreasonable and often impossible to accomplish. Being overly self-critical also makes us vulnerable to stress and anxiety, and the shame that comes with it makes us avoid our issues and isolate ourselves.
But why is that we rarely take a similar stance for others, maybe say things like “You are stupid” or “You are a loser” to our colleagues or friends? We stand by to encourage and support them through tough times but when it comes to us, we don’t comfort ourselves. What if we extended a deliberate dose of kindness to ourselves to let ourselves off the hook?
The polarity to self-criticism is self-compassion which helps us see our limiting beliefs and overcome them with practice. Self-compassion means being okay with our flaws and knowing that mistakes are normal. It does not mean that we are giving in to negligence as a way of life, but only that we are acknowledging we are human and that we have the power to make different choices. Self-compassion helps us build resilience and leads us to a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction.
10 Steps to let yourself off the hook and cultivate self-compassion
Build a sense of commonality with others. Everyone needs to have a support circle that they can rely on in tough times. Opening up to others can enable you to be your true self, build emotional connections and know that you are not alone.
Be aware of what you feed your body and mind. Knowing what makes you feel good or healthy is important. Taking care of your physical and mental health indicates that you are being compassionate in your choices.
Be mindful of your thoughts and feelings by experiencing them as they are, without trying to suppress them or judge yourself in the process. Knowing your experience is a form of kindness that can help you understand what you truly need.
Examine your mindset. Even though you may have taken decisions Understanding that no-one is perfect and you may have taken decisions which may have not worked out well is the key to help you retain your confidence in your choices. Vulnerability is a strength which when acknowledged can help us change unhealthy behaviours.
Recognise if your self-talk carries negative connotations or labels that make you feel worse about yourself and unravel the feelings behind these inner dialogues. Using compassionate and kind words when you speak to yourself can help you discover your strengths and enhance them.
Recognise if you judge yourself often and give yourself the freedom to be your authentic self. Assumptions can only lead to more self-limiting beliefs.
Let go of the need for external validation. What others think is not as important as what you think. Loving and respecting yourself in the manner you want others to treat you is one of the pillars of self-compassion.
Forgive yourself for your mistakes. The past cannot be undone, what helps is to realise that you did the best you could at that time. Cut yourself some slack for what went wrong and be willing to start afresh.
Engage in self-soothing activities that shower you with compassion. Journaling, using a sensory experience to up the happy feelings, relaxing, pursuing a hobby are some examples of self-soothing activities you could try.
Revisit your day with kindness. Making a note of what you need, offering the same advice as you would to a close friend or loved one and choosing a compassionate response can help you take a leap towards enhancing your wellbeing.