advertisement

Home » Psych Central Professional » Self-Compassion vs. Self-Criticism


Self-Compassion vs. Self-Criticism

Recently I wrote about the “The Stress and Trauma Loop.” I described my struggle with a stressful transition. I pointed out that stress responses feel a lot like trauma responses and that therefore, those of us with accumulated trauma in our life history can be easily tricked by stress into feeling that we are back in the days of trauma again.

Many of you asked – so what can be done in times and situations when it is difficult or impossible to do self-care on a regular basis?

Recognize and Lower the Volume of Self-Criticism

A common response when we go into distress is criticism of self: “I should have done this,” “I shouldn’t have done that,” etc. “Shoulda’, woulda’, coulda’” is an early sign of distress that often results in getting stuck in withdrawal.

Joeng & Turner (2015) found “an undeniable link between self-criticism and depression….The more people criticized themselves, the more they got depressed.  Self-criticism adds an internal burden to the external challenges that are stressing us. The result is a feeling that we are squeezed from all sides, all doors to change are closed and that we are forever stuck.

Activate Self-Compassion

Neff (2003) describes self-compassion as “an emotionally positive self attitude that [can] protect against the negative consequences of self-judgment, isolation, and rumination (such as depression)” (p. 85).

He suggests a three-fold strategy to activate self compassion:

  1. self-kindness—being kind toward oneself instead of self-judging, 2. focusing on common humanity—perceiving one’s experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than as separating and isolating, and 3. mindfulness—holding painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness rather than over-identifying with them (Neff, 2003. p. 85).

My Own Self-Compassion

I learned about self-compassion as a concept in my early twenties. A nice idea, I thought. But truthfully, I wasn’t able to practice it effectively at that time.

Years later, in the safety of a good trainer – using psychodrama role-reversal, I experienced the power of self compassion. It was very different than self-pity and was the beginning of my journey to identify and work on mindful expansion.

In times of high stress, when predictability and day-to-day comforts are not accessible, self-compassion remains the one thing I keep on practicing when it is too difficult to maintain my day-to-day self care regime.

I remind myself over and over again that I do the best that I can at every given moment. Most of the time, I find, that within minutes, I feel reconnected to my inner resources and able to manage whatever I am facing, including painful thoughts and feelings.

Expressive Self-Compassion

When I introduce clients to self-compassion enhancement activities, I often use psychodrama. There are wonderful techniques to speak to different inner voices, connect to selected moments in the past, and examine self-judgment using imaginal space (surplus reality).

Usually, we try to identify where the self-judgmental internalized voices come from and then begin to explore how the client responds to messages of self-compassion.

Rephrase your inner messages

Like many other therapists, I consider an on-going self-care plan essential following trauma. A key part of this plan is examination of one’s inner messages. I work with clients to identify and rephrase the messages that seem to work best for them, using their inner sense of expansion/contraction as a guide.

Three steps to enhance your self-compassion now:

  • Write down on several post-i’s: I do/did the best that I can/could at every given moment. Post them in places you will see them often.
  • Write down your ‘should, could and would’ sentences and rephrase them in a self-compassionate manner.
  • Use the expansion/contraction exercise to evaluate the impact of one or two above or something else you use to enhance self-compassion. Your goal: to strengthen your ability to notice what builds self-compassion and what does not.

References:

Joeng, J. R., & Turner, S. L. (2015). Mediators Between Self-Criticism and Depression: Fear of Compassion, Self-Compassion, and Importance to Others. Journal Of Counseling Psychology, doi:10.1037/cou0000071

Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and identity, 2(2), 85-101.

Colorful notes photo available from Shutterstock

Self-Compassion vs. Self-Criticism

Odelya Gertel Kraybill, Ph.D.

Dr. Odelya Gertel Kraybill was born and raised in Israel. Her personal journey as a trauma survivor has led her to become a trauma specialist and therapist. She was a Fulbright scholar and focused on trauma studies in three graduate studies programs in the U.S. Odelya has lived in and worked with trauma survivors in Israel, Lesotho, Philippines and the U.S. She is a graduate adjunct faculty member at the George Washington University art therapy program and is widely recognized as a blogger on stress and trauma integration at www.eti.training. Visit her on Facebook.

 

APA Reference
Gertel Kraybill, O. (2015). Self-Compassion vs. Self-Criticism. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 10, 2018, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/self-compassion-vs-self-criticism/

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 20 Aug 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Aug 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.