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Do you ever have critical thoughts of yourself or your performance? Do you ever feel like you’re saying you “should have” or “could have“ done something better, something different? I know we’ve all heard it before but, we are our worst critic.

Why is it so natural to criticize ourselves, yet so difficult to validate, encourage, and embrace ourselves? What would it look like to exchange criticism with compassion?

As life has gotten busier year by year, I’ve grown accustomed to creating daily lists. These lists could either consist of my daily assignments, my exercise regime, or simply the errands that need to be done. With growing responsibilities, I’ve felt the pressure of checking off every single item listed and completing those things to a T. Eventually, I realized I couldn’t check off everything and wasn’t completing things the way I had hoped. I should have organized better. I could have done more. Somehow, whether or not I’d finish my list would affect the way I felt about myself and my performance. As life has transitioned due to COVID-19, it also got a little slower from home. It seemed as if I had more time to pay attention to my thoughts. This is when I noticed how critical of myself I had gotten amidst the business of life.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is acknowledging that we are human. Being human, we fall short sometimes and that is okay. It entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. Self-compassion connoisseur, Kristin Neff, illustrates the practice as acting compassionately towards yourself, the same way you would for a friend, when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Dr. Neff has conducted research that has found that people who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, and stressed, and are much more likely to be happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future.

Instead of this, let’s say this…

One thing that I have been trying to be aware of recently is how I talk to myself. Sometimes, the thoughts that roam in our mind aren’t the most helpful. A part of having compassion for ourselves is acknowledging what thoughts may be sending messages to our core beliefs. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), efforts are made to change thinking patterns.There is a way that we can learn how to recognize the unhelpful thoughts and replace them with helpful ones. This looks different for everyone but can be empowering when practiced!

  • Instead of saying, “I could have helped more,” try saying, “I did what I could to the best of my ability.”
  • Instead of saying, “If I don’t land that job, I’m a failure,” try saying, “I am a valuable and qualified person. If this doesn’t work out, I can try again.”
  • Instead of saying, “I can never get this right. I always do this,” try saying, “Although I struggle with this, I can still learn how to grow.”

Since acknowledging the presence of my own self-critical thoughts, I’ve tried to make every effort to replace them with self-compassionate thoughts: You’re still doing the work. It’s okay if it takes time. You can continue tomorrow.

As mentioned earlier, compassion for oneself doesn’t always come naturally. Like many things, acknowledging our thoughts and compassionately embracing our whole selves takes time and intentionality. If you’d like to learn how to implement self-compassion in your own life, please reach out to myself or one of the therapists here at Optimum Joy today!

Written by therapist Melissa Del Carmen

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