Making Change

A psychologist provides guidelines to help individuals define their best pathways to change

Self-Criticism Can Sabotage Your Happiness; and Productivity

Ditch self-criticism and embrace self-compassion for a happy, successful life.



Being successful offers a sense of accomplishment. It feels good. However, if you frequently use self-critical thoughts to spur yourself on to try harder, this way of thinking will seep into your very being and you will inevitably be chronically unhappy with yourself – even if you are outwardly successful. There is a better way; one that allows you to feel good about yourself while also motivating you to actively pursue your goal.

You may be surprised to learn that this more effective approach to self-motivation is to develop self-compassion. Self-compassion calls for you to approach yourself with caring and concern. Empathize with that person inside who is struggling.

If you are about to stop reading because it seems that I’m asking you to go too easy on yourself, look at it this way. When you feel for someone else’s struggles, you do not just want to ease their pain; you also want them to meet their goal. Similarly, self-compassion will naturally encourage you to soothe your emotional pain while wishing (and urging) you on. It will encourage you to either persevere or to change paths, depending upon whichever course holds the most promise for a happier future.

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To shift from self-criticism to self-compassion, you must first learn to be aware of when you are being self-critical. Then you must choose to change your focus to a more compassionate one– which can be a lot like trying to separate your hands when they’re stuck together with super glue. Just pulling won’t do the job.

So, to help you let go of self-criticism and connect with a more compassionate perspective, try the following two-part meditation. Take note that it is not intended to be completed in one session. So, take whatever time you need to complete each part of the exercise.

Develop a compassionate figure in your mind:

Sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed or lowered.

Bring your awareness to your breath. Pay attention to the flow of your inhale and exhale for a few breaths.

Meditate on compassionate qualities, such as empathy, warmth, sympathy, and acceptance. Allow the image of a compassionate figure to emerge. It can be a real person, alive or dead. For instance, you might choose a family member, friend, hero, or spiritual icon. It can also be a fictional figure from a book, movie, or your imagination.  What is most important is that this compassionate figure can offer love, acceptance, and caring.

Practice conjuring up the compassionate figure. Spend time writing, drawing, or just thinking about this compassionate figure. Practice seeing the image in your mind and experiencing its comforting presence. You can generate a sense of warmth by forming a half-smile as you see this image in your mind’s eye.

Once you can feel warmth from your compassionate figure, you are ready to invite this figure to help when you struggle with self-criticism.

 

Turn to Your Compassionate Figure:

Sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed or lowered.

Bring your awareness to your breath. Pay attention to the flow of your inhale and exhale for a few breaths.

Imagine your chosen compassionate figure joining you; responding to your self-criticism and your situation. He knows your whole life story and knows the “real you.” He understands that your struggles are related to many factors, such as earlier events in your life, your biological makeup, and current circumstances. And, he understands that your struggles are part of being human. So, as he watches and listens to you, he “gets” where you are coming from. And he responds with kindness and caring. He offers acceptance and forgiveness. He might touch you in a comforting way; perhaps giving you a hug or just gently placing a hand on your shoulder. He might even offer a few words of advice. But, whatever he does or says, you can feel the love, acceptance, and caring. Make note of how you relax, feel warmth, or experience it in other ways in your body. Imagine thanking your compassionate figure and then return your awareness to your breath; and open your eyes.

Practice this meditation (or some part of it) every day. You will likely feel it penetrate your being after several weeks. You must continue the practice as you work to make self-compassion (rather than self-criticism) your natural response to difficulties. In the end, this effort will definitely pay off. You will feel better about yourself and motivated to create a happy, successful life.

 

To gain a better understanding of what makes self-awareness and self-compassion (which together are called compassionate self-awareness) so important in change, click here to see a brief video of me discussing this topic.

  

Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.

If you would like email notification of new blog postings by Dr. Becker-Phelps, click here.

 

Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.

Personal change through compassionate self-awareness

 

 

Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, New Jersey.

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