I’m going to ask you to do a little thought experiment with me. Think of your dearest friend. Don’t just gloss over this. Really take a couple seconds to call their face to mind. Think about why you’re friends and why you care about this person.
Now think about a time when they were struggling. Maybe they were going through a rough patch or had too much on their plate or made a mistake or regrettable decision.
How did you respond to your friend? How did you show up for them? Recall not just what you said or did, but how you said and did it. What did your face look like? How did your voice sound?
Now think about a time when YOU were struggling. Maybe YOU were going through a rough patch, having a hard time handling things, or maybe YOU made a mistake.
How did you treat yourself in that moment? How did you show up for yourself? What did you say to yourself? How did you say it?
Are there any differences between how you treated your friend and how you treated yourself?
What would happen if you treated your friend the way you treated yourself? What would happen if you said the things you say to yourself out loud to another human, especially someone you care about? Real talk time. Would you still have a friend?
So many people treat themselves with harsh criticism that they would never dream of directing at someone else. You deserve to be treated with the same respect and kindness you readily give to your bestie!
Why we self-criticize
We’ve all fallen into the trap of self-criticism at some point for one reason or another. Sometimes, it’s because we were taught to self-criticize, either by others criticizing us directly or by hearing them criticize themselves. Regardless, we internalized that mental habit.
Sometimes, self-criticism stems from a misguided effort to motivate or drive ourselves to excellence. We may have critical thoughts or beliefs that make us think that being hard on ourselves is the path to success. If I don’t beat myself up, I’m letting myself off the hook. I’ll lose my edge and not accomplish my goals. Sound familiar?
The downside of self-criticism
While criticism may fuel motivation initially, it actually tends to backfire. You may have had some firsthand experience with this. Have you ever had a boss or friend or family member who constantly put you down? What happened? Perhaps you worked to gain their approval, without success, or perhaps you stopped trying as hard, figuring what’s the point? Either way, it didn’t bring out the best in you and help you succeed long term.
Our brains perceive criticism as a threat to our sense of self, and the result is that our fight-or-flight response gets triggered. A little stress can provide motivation, but prolonged or chronic stress actually zaps motivation. This self-criticism can contribute to a fear of failure, holding us back from taking risks or keeping us from being able to learn valuable lessons from mistakes (we don’t learn well when we’re in fight-or-flight mode).
Be a good friend to you
The antidote to self-criticism is self-compassion – essentially being a good friend to yourself. I implore you to treat yourself with the same care and respect you show others. Think of how you value your interpersonal relationships. You would never talk to your friend the way you talk to yourself. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it, too!
Self-compassion (the practice of empathy + kindness for yourself) is a psychological superpower. It brings so many wellbeing benefits (like more happiness and resilience), and it helps us recover and learn from mistakes more quickly, leading to more effective outcomes. You can learn more about self-compassion in our Ascend program (there’s an entire bonus module dedicated to it). For now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite ways to be a good friend to yourself and build self-compassion.
These two little words, “Of course!” These magic little words. In the face of a hard situation or a mistake, start with “Of course.”
Of course I feel this way! Who wouldn’t feel XYZ in this situation? It’s hard!
Of course I overlooked that. I’ve been so stressed lately that I’m not firing on all cylinders. That’s understandable.
Of course I’m anxious! This is a stretch outside of my comfort zone.
Of course helps you show up with care and support in your hardest moments, when you need it most. Whatever it is, start with “of course” and see if that doesn’t change the way things go from there. You’ll not only feel better, but you’ll be better able to take effective action because you won’t be spinning out in fight-or-flight mode. You need to hold yourself to high standards when it comes to showing yourself some compassion!
“The most important relationship in your life is the relationship you have with yourself. Because no matter what happens, you will always be with yourself.”
– Diane Von Furstenberg