Healing Self-Criticism, Self-Doubt and Low Self-Esteem with Self-Compassion

Being overly self-critical has been shown to be linked to and result in increased self-doubt, difficulties with decision making, increased inhibition, low self-esteem, and feelings of shame. If you struggle with self-criticism, it will be exceedingly difficult to reach your full potential as you will struggle with many of the things named out. So how can we manage self-criticism so that it doesn’t interfere with our ability to push forward and feel content? The answer is practicing self-compassion. 

Self-compassion can be defined as being warm and understanding towards ourselves when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or beating ourselves up with self-criticism. We are often very good at being warm and understanding towards others when they suffer, fail or feel inadequate but we don’t always extend that same kindness and understanding to ourselves. When we don’t show ourselves compassion but instead berate ourselves, we are doing ourselves a disservice. We are robbing ourselves of the support, understanding and kindness that we deserve and that we need in order to grow and succeed. To be at our best and continue to improve and grow we need to exchange harsh self-criticism and self-attacking for compassionate self-correction.

Imagine a child who is struggling at school with one of two teachers. The first is very good at spotting errors and is quite critical and maybe even frustrated with the child’s mistakes. He or she believes that it’s necessary to keep children on their toes, otherwise, without a degree of fear, they will be lazy. In contrast, the second teacher has concerns for the child’s well being, and is able to encourage the child to accept and learn from their mistakes in a compassionate way. Which teacher would you prefer to teach your child?

Differences between Compassionate self-correction vs. Self-attacking self- criticism

Compassionate self-correction:

  • Focuses on the desire to improve
  • Focuses on growth and enhancement
  • Is forward-looking
  • Is given with encouragement, support and kindness
  • Focuses on attributes and specific qualities of self
  • Focuses on and hopes for success
  • Increases chances of engagement with tasks/challenges/opportunities
  • Reminds us of our humanness 

Self-Attacking Self-Criticism:

  • Focuses on the desire to condemn and punish
  • Focuses on punishing past errors
  • Is often backward looking
  • Is given with anger, frustration, contempt and disappointment
  • Focuses on deficits and fear of exposure
  • Focuses on a global sense of self
  • Focuses on high fear of failure
  • Increases chances of avoidance and withdrawal from tasks/challenges/opportunities (procrastination)
  • Linked to low self-esteem/self-worth

So which approach do you think would be most helpful in helping you to reach your goals and feel confident in yourself?

Practicing Self-Compassion

There are many ways we can increase our self-compassion. One way of increasing your self-compassion is to ask yourself the following questions the next time you feel distressed or have encountered a mistake, failure or feeling of inadequacy:

  • How do I really feel right now? Am I being sensitive to and observant of my feelings?
  • Am I being empathic, standing back and trying to understand my feelings and the way in which I am thinking?
  • Am I being mindful of and recognizing the human condition and my own humanness?
  • Am I being non-judgemental toward myself right now?
  • If I was speaking to a friend, who was in the same situation and felt the same way, what would I say to them that was understanding, kind and supportive?
  • What do I need right now that would be helpful to me while I feel this way?

Another way of practicing self-compassion is to tell yourself some compassionate statements. When saying compassionate statements to yourself, try to put yourself into a compassionate state, you could do this by imagining you are speaking to a dear friend. Try to bring as much warmth, kindness and care into your thoughts and into the tone in which you speak to yourself. Then use some compassionate statements. Some compassionate statements might sound like:

  • “It’s understandable to feel distressed by what is going on. This is a difficult experience”
  • “It is human to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes and that is okay. I have learnt something new from this experience. Well done for trying. Failing and making mistakes is a part of growing and learning”
  • “It’s okay to feel this way because I’m human and its part of being human to have these kinds of feelings. Everyone feels this way too at different times.”
  • “There is alot going on right now and it is difficult. I am trying my best and that is enough”
  • “Some experiences are rich for the learning they provide. Look how much I have learned. This is priceless.”

Self-compassion is something that many of us find difficult. We can be our own biggest critics and wouldn’t dream of saying to others what we say to ourselves. However, we can change this. Self-compassion is a skill that we can learn and develop. Psychotherapy can help you to take control of your critical self-talk and to develop self-compassion for yourself. Contact us today to book an initial consultation and see how we can help you to master your own self-talk.

You deserve the same kindness, understanding and support that you extend to others.

Online course on how to develop self-compassion coming soon!

A Guide to Self-Compassion, a Path to Well-Being - Insight Psychology