The Inner Critic
Most of us have a very strongly developed Inner Critic which can be summarised as the part of the mind that criticises or attacks us internally whenever we feel we have made a mistake. We often experience it also when we have not lived up to an inner ideal or when we have judged ourselves or been judged by others. If you think of a time when you’ve been very upset by something and then focus on how you treated yourself during that experience or your inner attitude to yourself, if there is any harshness then that is an example of the Inner Critic in action. Now ask yourself if this harshness helped you to feel less upset about the situation? Your answer is likely to be “No”. If you spoke like this to a friend who was upset it becomes even more obvious that harshness rarely helps relieve any difficult emotional states. Self criticism almost always makes us feel even worse than we are already feeling because it activates our internal threat system (fight/flight/freeze) and creates a release of adrenaline and cortisol which increases our level of anxiety.
There are a number of approaches to dealing with the Inner Critic but one of the most successful is that of cultivating an attitude of self-compassion. There can often be resistance in us to developing this attitude towards ourselves. There can be many reasons for this including a fear that we will get stuck in self pity or that it might stop us from trying to find a solution to our problem. This is rarely the case. In fact self-compassion increases our sense of safety by activating our capacity to self-soothe. When this happens, the part of the brain (left pre frontal cortex) that can identify solutions to whatever is troubling us comes back on line. This means that we can more quickly move past the problem and tap into our inner resilience. It can help us to feel safe again.
The Three Components of Self Compassion
Self-compassion has three components: Mindfulness, Kindness and a Sense of our Common Humanity. Mindfulness means bringing our attention to what is happening in the present moment in a calm way, without judging it. Kindness involves using that awareness in a kind and gentle way. It involves having a warm attitude to ourselves as we experience whatever is bothering us. A sense of our common humanity reduces isolation because we remind ourselves that we are not alone in feeling this difficult emotion, but there are people around the world who are having the same
The practical ways of using self-compassion involve being aware of using warmth, gentle touch and a soothing tone of voice towards ourselves. There are a number of very useful practical exercises on the website of Kristin Neff who is a specialist in Self-Compassion training.