We all have that “inner critic” voice in our heads. This “inner bully” is that nagging and persistent voice, which tells us unkind or even downright mean things. Some people are reluctant to challenge their “inner bully,” as they believe that it serves to motivate them. However, this assumption is incorrect. While it is impossible to completely get rid of your “inner bully,” you can take away a lot of its power through the practice of self-compassion.
In my work as a therapist in private practice in Rockville, MD, specializing in helping teens and adults struggling with eating disorders, body-image issues, and anxiety, I often use elements of dialectical behavioral and cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as helping clients to practice self-compassion. I’m seen the amazing impact that practicing self-compassion has had on the clients that I work with.
I’ve also developed my own personal practice of self-compassion over the years, which has truly transformed the way that I work and live.
Self-compassion is not some new-age concept reserved for the spiritually enlightened. Rather it is a simple practice that can have transformative power in our lives. Practicing self-compassion is also not the same thing as being self-centered. Self-compassion is simply treating yourself with the same kindness and care that you would extend to someone that you love.
Additionally, self-compassion is different from self-esteem, in that self-esteem is often largely hinged on external accomplishments. Thus, self-esteem is prone to fluctuate depending on one’s perceived successes and setbacks. However, self-compassion is always available to us, regardless of our external circumstances.
According to Kristen Neff, a self-compassion researcher, the three components of self-compassion are self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness entails being understanding and warm to ourselves when we fail or make mistakes. Common humanity is simply recognizing that suffering and setbacks are normal and expected parts of life that everyone will encounter. The element of mindfulness involves observing our emotions and thoughts in a nonjudgmental manner.
Putting it into Practice
1. Notice any self-critical thoughts that you are having.
The first step is to simply start to notice any self-critical thoughts that you are having. Try not to beat yourself up for having these thoughts. Rather, acknowledge that they are there and start to develop an awareness of your “triggers,” when it comes to your “inner bully voice” getting louder.
2. Acknowledge that you are not alone in what you are experiencing.
The next step is to acknowledge that you are not alone in what you are experiencing. Whether you feel that you have fallen short, made a mistake, or had a setback, it’s important to recognize that this is part of the human experience. You are certainty not alone in this. Further, a life without experiences of failure, setbacks, and mistakes, would likely lack meaning and growth.
3. Practice responding to yourself with kindness.
A crucial part of self-compassion is practicing responding to yourself with kindness, both through words and actions.
Inner Bully: You sounded so dumb and anxious during that interview. You totally flubbed that question about your past experience. They are never going to hire you.
Compassionate Voice: It’s understandable that you felt nervous during your interview. Many people get anxious during interviews. You did the best you could and no matter the outcome, it was brave to put yourself out there.
In addition to speaking to yourself gently and kindly, you can also work to practice acts of self-compassion, which could include taking time out for self-care, setting healthy boundaries with others, and doing kind things for yourself.
The Bottom Line
Like any other skill, self-compassion is a practice and it can take time for this way of responding to yourself to become more engrained. Therefore, it’s important that you do not “beat yourself up” for not always being compassionate with yourself.
Ultimately, you deserve to treat yourself with the same kindness and care that you give to people you love.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is a therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer specializes in helping adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders, body image issues, anxiety, and depression. Jennifer offers eating disorder therapy to individuals in Maryland, and eating disorder recovery coaching via phone/Skype.