Last Sunday I gave a workshop on Mindfulness and Self-Compassion at the AABCAP conference with the particular focus on how we can recognize and transform the critical inner voice that so often makes itself known in response to perceived failure.It is clear is that self-criticism and self-attacking are among the most pervasive problems in Western societies (so no need to become self-critical about having a self-critical inner voice) and seriously undermine contentment and well-being as well as diminish love and intimacy in relationships. A critical inner voice is caused in many ways and it may well be helpful to understand these causes. What is more important though is to recognize how it is perpetuated as this is something you can really do something about.
Consider the following situation:
You are asked to do a presentation at work to promote the company and introduce a new project to potential investors. You are diligent in your preparation but when the time comes to present your material, inexplicably, you can’t find the USB stick that contains your material. You do the best you can but at the end of the presentation there is dead silence.
Or perhaps an even more common scenario: You are shopping for new clothes. You choose garments in your usual size but when you try them on in the change rooms you discover that they are all too small.
What self-judgmental thoughts and feeling might go through your mind? What might you tell yourself about yourself? How long will you be ruminating over this?
Self-criticism is usually preceded by difficult emotions and shame is in the forefront of these emotions. A sense of shame arises when we think others might be looking down on us in some way, that they see us inadequate, inferior or bad. Or simply not worth bothering with.
The researcher and author Brene Brown defines shame as the ‘intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.
There is a common belief that the inner critic is needed to be motivated to keep moving forward, to succeed, to get better at things but I am sure it’s not news to you that this is at best a short term strategy. Over time, the inner critic is stressful and exhausting and even if it brings about change that change comes with the high cost of losing joy, contentment and inner peace.
So, what to?
Cultivating mindfulness offers the presence that allows you to recognize the voice of the inner critic as well as the inner stability and resilience to explore its triggers, its tone and its impact (the first step of transformation).Being in close contact with the inner landscape offers much information about intention, beliefs, wants, needs, wounds and missing experiences. You can begin to know your wounded places.You can begin to know what you need, for example you might need to reach out to another for empathy and support.
Self Compassion is the intention and desire to be friendly and understanding toward yourself when you suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. Maybe a more accessible word is self-kindness. Bringing this self-kindness and understanding to bear on a perceived failing you can begin to respond to difficult emotions in new ways, in ways that hold the promise of transformation
Subhana Barzaghi and I will be offering a two day workshop on Creating Loving, Resilient Relationships through Mindfulness and Compassion, Please click here for more information