Another component of building self-compassion (see previous blog entry on loving-kindness) is to soften self-judgement. Take a moment and try to reflect on some of the things that you often say to yourself. If you are like most people, much of your internal talk is heavily critical. We all want to push ourselves to be better people and to do the things that are important to us, however, we can often go too far with this. Sometimes the critical self-talk becomes so harsh that we actually end up getting in our own way.
Here is an exercise (adapted from The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Depression) designed to soften that overly critical voice:
- Try to imagine a situation that is likely to create self-criticism. Example: failing to clean the house/apartment after you keep telling yourself that you are going to.
- Think about some of the harsh self-judgement things you hear yourself say. Example: in this situation it might be “you are a lazy slob” or “you’re a barely functioning adult, how did you make it this far in life?” (This is pretty harsh and not very helpful).
- Think about what your immediate feelings would be. These can vary greatly, but they might be irritation, anger, guilt, or shame.
- Think about what you can say differently to promote self-kindness. Think of an honest “soft statement” to tell yourself. Something like “you are doing what you can at this moment.” Or, “You are not perfect, you are human.” It might even be helpful to think about what you would say to a close friend in the same situation. Example: you might say “I’ve had other things to attend to this week so I haven’t been able to clean and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean I’m not a fully functioning adult.”
- Think about how your emotions might be different if you give yourself a break. If you are more kind to yourself. Again, these emotions will vary greatly, but you might feel more at peace, relieved, free or relaxed.
- Think about behaviors you can engage in to further build self-compassion. This could be anything that looks like working toward the situation in a more loving way. Example: you might clean for 10 minutes and celebrate this first step by allowing yourself a short break for some peace and quiet or watching part of a movie or listening to music.
The take away from this exercise is three fold: to become more aware of when you are overly critical, then allowing yourself to be nicer to you, and then finally behaving in a way that is more kind to yourself. The more you soften self-judgement the more likely you are to actually work towards the things that you have been self-critical about. Example: The nicer you are to yourself the easier it becomes to clean!
Try to practice softening self-judgement whenever you can. Start by listen for the hateful things you say to yourself and then work from there. It takes time to “re-wire” your brain to be more kind toward yourself but it can be done! And it is easier if you take it one step at a time. Reach out today if you need help identifying or working through any of these steps.