Imagine the last time someone you loved was having a hard time, maybe a mistake was made or some type of loss was being experienced. Can you remember how you consoled them? What did you say? How did you comfort them? Now imagine the last time you made a mistake or confronted a difficulty. How did you respond to your own sense of challenge? What kinds of things did you say to yourself? If you're at all like me, those are two pretty different experiences. Often the way we treat ourselves is drastically different and much harsher than how we treat someone that we cared about. I would never say some of the things that I say to myself to a friend and I'm sure you wouldn't either. In this session, we're going to talk about our inner critic, that tiny voice in the back of your mind that plays off your greatest anxieties. The negative commentator who always has something to say about who you are and how you behave. We're going to talk about that inner voice that each of us share and learn how we can turn down its volume, so its presence isn't so distracting or destructive. Psychologists have different theories on the origin of the inner critic. Some believe that it's formed from painful early life experiences where we either witnessed or experienced hurtful attitudes or behaviors towards us or those that we were close to. As we grow up, we unconsciously internalize and integrate this pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others. Other psychologists think that the inner critic is a protector built to ensure that we stay safe and far away from the shame of failure. In this theory, the critic is shaped by the disapproval and rejection of our caregivers, but it's also supported by our biology. It's another way that we're hard wired to survive. When the judgments and expectations of our caregivers become internalized, that's basically us jumping on the bandwagon. We join the critic In demanding that we always do more and be better than we are right now. Wherever it comes from, when we fail to identify and separate from this inner critic, we allow it to impact our behavior and shape the direction of our lives. Even though harsh judgment can make it feel like we're making progress against our flaws, we're really only reinforcing a sense of unworthiness. It has an internal burden to the external challenges that are stressing us and leaves us feeling like we're being squeezed from all sides with all the doors to change closed. Our inner critic can sabotage our successes, our relationships, and prevent us from living the lives that we want to lead. What can be really tough about the inner critic is that it does a great job masquerading as reality. A self-destructive thought that really seems to be a painful reflection of the truth, is far more persuasive than a thought that clearly doesn't map onto the way things are at all. You know you're in the presence of the inner critic when you start to notice that your internal commentary includes words like should, always, and never, or that your body begins to feel contracted and tight. Instead of creating a wide open space for negotiating our lives, the inner critic causes us to question our worth and collapse in on ourselves. Over time, a relentless inner critic will leave us feeling ambivalent, insecure, shameful, anxious, and exhausted. In spite of our attachment to the inner critic as a great motivator, research has shown that encouragement, reward, and most especially self-compassion are actually much more motivating than the harsh, critical, and perfectionistic approach that many of us take towards our lives. Kristin Neff, a leading psychological researcher who primarily studies self-compassion, says that, self-compassion requires self-awareness and kindness. That it means recognizing and accepting our own humanity. It means recognizing what's arising for you, which might be exhaustion, overwhelm, and stress, and then from a place of kind awareness, taking your next steps with insight and compassion. There have been over 1200 clinical studies on self-compassion. While it may seem hard to believe, the data clearly demonstrates that when self-compassion is practiced, negative states decrease and specific signs of strength, such as resiliency, increase. Individuals who are more self-compassionate tend to have greater happiness, life satisfaction, motivation, better relationships and physical health, and less anxiety and depression. They also have the resilience needed to cope with stressful life events such as divorce, health crises, professional failure, and even combat trauma. When you get caught in a negative thought loop, your fight or flight response gets triggered, activating your body's defense system, and it leaves you feeling unsafe with decreased resources to face the task at hand. Conversely, people who practice self-compassion are more likely to aim for higher goals and put themselves out there because they know that if they don't succeed, they have a safe place inside of themselves to turn to. Despite the promising research, it's my experience that most individuals have a healthy skepticism of self-compassion. It's a commonly held belief in high achievers that, if I didn't beat myself up, I'd never get anywhere. Self-compassion can be perceived as too gentle and too passive, and there's a fear that being compassionate will make us complacent or overly tolerant of low standards. But self-compassion is actually a great motivator because it involves the desire to alleviate suffering, to heal, to thrive, and to be happy. Most of us have dreams and aspirations that we'd like to realize in this lifetime. We also have smaller short-term goals. Self-compassion motivates like a good coach or a best friend with kindness, support, and understanding, not harsh criticism. What can you do to turn your inner critic into this gentle supporter? Well, developing your mindfulness skills is an excellent place to start. Mindfulness and self-compassion both allow us to live with less resistance toward ourselves and our lives. On one hand, remember that mindfulness is a non judgmental receptive state of mind where we can learn to observe our thoughts and feelings as they are without trying to suppress or deny them. If we can bring self-compassion to the table here, we can mindfully accept those moments that are painful and wrap ourselves with kindness and care in response. This reinforces our ability to turn towards the difficult. We can't ignore our pain and have compassion for it at the same time. On the flip side, mindfulness helps us be aware of and get some distance from our thoughts and feelings so that we don't get caught up and swept away by negative reactivity. It makes tuning out the inner critic possible. For me, self-compassion doesn't come easy. But in those moments where I'm able to remind myself that I'm moving through life the best way that I can, I feel reconnected to my inner resources and better able to manage whatever I'm facing, including painful thoughts and feelings.