Over the past couple months, I have been conducting a study on self-compassion and its effect on inner-criticism, shame and anxiety. Through both research and personal experiences, I can say that self-compassion has a significant effect on mood, empathy, motivation and confidence. Practicing self-compassion has been shown to reduce inner criticism, self-loathing, shame, anxiety and depression while increasing, empathy, self-efficacy, motivation, resilience and self-esteem without breeding narcissism, self-centeredness and selfishness. When I practice self-compassion I neither deny or amplify the suffering I am experiencing—I can be aware of my inner-critic, without allowing these voices and uncomfortable feelings hijack me.
Personally I have a loud inner critic and as a wellness educator and yoga teacher I get asked about how to work with inner criticism and difficult emotions all the time. One of the most empowering things I have learned is that these difficult emotions are part of the human experience; they are not personal. Avoiding, rejecting, judging, repressing or numbing them actually enhances them, which eventually leads to destructive/unethical behavior. Learning (or unlearning) how to experience emotions in a less apprehensive or guarded way allows these feelings to become messengers instead of hijackers. Understanding the importance of “emotional intelligence” and emotional regulation on behavior, self-esteem and wellness I have become interested in how we can experience our difficult emotions without feeling overwhelmed or ashamed. Personally I have found that mindfulness practices can sometimes make me feel worse, more critical and anxious and through research discovered that there are some limitations to these practices especially for those who have experienced trauma, or high amounts of inner criticism and shame. How can we accept the “imperfections” and “messy” as a part of the human experience without criticism, judgement or denial? This curiosity has led me to the self-compassion practices and how they can fortify our self-care and mindfulness practices allowing us to breakthrough and become more resilient versus breaking down, criticizing, judging and blaming.
I have also been extremely interested in what motivates behavior, especially “self-improvement” and or “goal setting”. What I have discovered is that much of our so called “self-improvement” is just self-hate in disguise. Who we are being is also what we are becoming, and if we enter these self-care practices or set goals with beliefs of “not good enough”, “broken”, “bad”, “ugly”, “I will be worthy of love when”, “I will feel better about myself if”.….. then we are feeding shame and inner criticism. Fear begets fear, lack fuels more lack and like a rat in the wheel we spend our life chasing external forms of gratification, yet true satisfaction and fulfilment seems elusive. How can we make our self-care practices about self-love versus self-hate—honoring, nurturing and respecting versus fixing, forcing and improving? Once again this question led me in the direction of cultivating an internal focus of self-compassion that facilitates soothing, contentment and inner peace—I can feel whole, complete, content and satisfied without needing to “do” or achieve anything. When I set an intention or “goals” from this place, they are more “aligned” with my heart than it is about chasing external validation.
My intention for writing this month’s blog and sharing some of my personal experience and research is to empower you with some education on the neuro-biology and psychology of inner-criticism and shame in addition to sharing some personal tools that I (and research) have found to be effective in relating to these experiences and rewiring the panel of assholes (inner critic).
Grab a tea…….this is going to be a long one (perhaps it will land itself in a book soon (ish) or a week long retreat called BEology: The science of inner peace and the art of living like you give a F%&k …….wink wink)
”I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever.Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.” Brené Brown
By Michelle Thoret.
Read more about Michelle's powerful story at empoweredyoga.ca