Here are 5 self-compassion strategies to use when you are feeling inadequate and self-critical:
1. Stop the comparison game by keeping your humanness at the top of mind.
Author Tara Brach (“Radical Acceptance”) stated, “Feeling unworthy goes hand in hand with feeling separate from others…the more deficient we feel, the more separate and vulnerable we feel.” These feelings of separation and isolation only worsen our feelings of inadequateness. Therefore, to be more sympathetic to ourselves, we must first recognize and accept that our anxiety, and related feelings of deficiency, are a normal part of the shared human experience. To suffer is to be human; we are not alone in our suffering. You can take my word for it, but it may be even more powerful to have your experiences reflected and validated by your own loved ones or therapist, which takes us to Step 2.
2. Share your vulnerabilities with someone you trust.
Telling someone that we are suffering from anxiety or don’t feel good about ourselves can make us feel incredibly vulnerable and exposed. It can feel risky to share something so personal with others when we don’t know how they are going to respond. Will they be supportive, or will they dismiss us? Will they validate us, or ridicule us? Witnessing my clients take the risk and open up to others has often proven that it’s worth it. Many people I work with have reported that they felt heard, understood, normalized, or validated as a result of their courageous act of vulnerability.
However, it is important to note that you may not feel emotionally safe or ready to share with your loved ones at this time. In that case, I strongly recommend that you seek the support of a licensed clinician whom you feel is a good fit.
3. Develop a regular mindful self-compassion practice.
Sometimes we make determined efforts to ignore, push away, or on the flip side, wholeheartedly believe our anxious thoughts and negative feelings about ourselves, all of which only strengthen the power of these unhelpful cognitions. Mindfulness practice asks us to slow down, breathe, tune into how our emotions are affecting our bodies, and simply observe our thoughts and feelings without judgment or immediate action. Slowing down and tuning in to our emotional experience can give us the clarity we need to think rationally about ourselves, immerse ourselves in love and kindness, and eventually take action in a reflective, thoughtful way. As self-compassion expert Kristin Neff asserts, “We can’t heal what we can’t feel.”
4. Develop a self-compassion mantra to use during moments of distress.
Let's ask ourselves, “What am I feeling in this moment? What isn’t helpful?” What do I need?” For many people, speaking to themselves with kindness and compassion feels strange and foreign. Try to create a compassionate phrase or set of phrases that feel as authentic, genuine, and true to yourself as possible. You may say to yourself, “Everyone feels anxious sometimes,” “It’s ok, honey, you’re just having a really hard time today,” or, “I can be gentle with myself, and provide myself with the comfort I need right now…I think I’ll go take a walk to get some fresh air.” You may also choose to speak directly to your harsh inner critic, by saying something like, “I know you are trying to be helpful by motivating me to do better next time, but you are really just hurting me.”
5. Don’t forget to attend to and soothe your bodily expressions of anxiety.
Our experiences of anxiety and self-criticism almost always involve a somatic component. We may feel tightness in our chest, a racing heartbeat, shallow breathing, a pit in our stomach. Close your eyes and identify where it is in your body you feel tension. Visualize that you are softening the sharp edges around the physical pain or discomfort. You may want to give yourself a gentle caress on the tense spot, while repeating the mantra you devised for yourself. I also highly recommend deep breathing exercises or yoga practices as a supplement to the mindful self-compassion skills mentioned above.
Self-compassion is a practice that takes time, patience, and effort. Ironically, to work on developing self-compassion, you need self-compassion, even if that means that you are “faking it ‘til you make it” at first. Learning the skill may not feel natural and comfortable. Being loving and kind to yourself may feel fake, forced, lazy, or inauthentic. Like any significant change in habit or personal growth endeavor, it will feel easier and more fulfilling over time. Stick with it and you will experience the benefits of self-compassion!
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