If you’re a reasonably conscientious person (and if you’re reading a self improvement blog, you probably are!), reducing self-criticism is likely to help you achieve more success and happiness both personally and in your social relationships. A happier you is better for you and for the world (proof of this).
The technique below is adapted from a technique developed by Dr Kristin Neff (Kristin’s version- see Exercise 3).
If you’re a practical person like I am, what I’m suggesting below will probably sound kooky but if you actually try it, you might be surprised by how much it makes you feel better.
You’re going to take on three roles (i.e., act like you’re 3 people).
1. Your self critical voice.
2. The “you” that gets criticized.
3. A compassionate, wise observer.
Speak to yourself in your self critical voice
e.g., “You’re doing a bad job at … you’re so useless.”
Speak back to your self critical voice describing what it feels like to be criticized.
e.g., “When you tell me I’m useless, my chest gets tight and I feel like crying. I start to think ‘I don’t think I can ever be a successful person.’ I feel really anxious.”
Good descriptions of what it feels like to be criticized are likely to include: thought, feeling, and physical components. Can you spot these components in my example above?
– Go a few more rounds. What might your self critical voice say next?
– Once again, reply as the you who is being criticized. Describe to the critical you what it feels like to be criticized so harshly.
Next, take on the role of a compassionate, wise observer. What might a compassionate, wise observer say?
e.g., “Your critical self and your criticized self both want you to be successful and happy, but holy crap your critical self goes about it the wrong way. Harsh criticism causes you to feel frozen with fear. Using fear to try to motivate yourself would’ve worked by now if it was going to work. If you need emotional soothing, can you give yourself that? If you’re ruminating about the causes or consequences of your distress, can you choose either giving yourself emotional soothing or taking a tiny problem solving action, rather than self criticism?”