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20 – How to ditch the self-criticism and stop beating yourself up

[00:00:00] Monica: Welcome friend. Today’s episode is one that I’ve been excited to share for some time, but I’ve also had some trepidation about it. It’s about self criticism and self compassion. And the reason I want to share it is because I think it’s such a common issue that I see in so many of my clients. And the reason I have some reluctance is that I still struggle with my inner critic from time to time.

[00:01:27] So today I’m just going to share what I know from my experience and how I handle it when my inner critic is loud. But before we begin, let’s take a long, slow exhale together.

[00:01:41] Now the information I share in this podcast is for entertainment purposes and it’s not medical advice. It’s always best to speak with your health professional. If you’re anything like me, you grew up thinking that you had to be hard on yourself to succeed. Perhaps you believed that criticizing yourself was the only way to improve.

[00:02:04] And I used to have this habit of making myself feel bad when I made a mistake or when things didn’t go to plan. As if the mistake wasn’t bad enough, I doubled down and made myself feel worse for being human and having flaws. I thought that being critical and hard on myself would make me better. But it didn’t.

[00:02:24] It just made me feel bad. And I don’t know about you, but when I feel bad, I fall on my bad habits. Like eating a family bag of salt and vinegar chips and then having a sore tongue for days. If you know, you know. And I’m hardly going to be at my best when I feel bad. We know how we feel when a friend criticizes us.

[00:02:45] We shut down, we contract, we get defensive. or maybe we ruminate on it for days on end. And this is what we do when we criticize ourselves. We have this misplaced belief that we’ll perform better if we’re really hard on ourselves. But contrary to popular belief, the people who are really hard on themselves waste a lot of mental energy, they tie themselves up in anxious knots, and they’ll perform better if they spent less time punishing themselves.

[00:03:17] Self criticism rarely leads to positive and lasting change. Instead it generates feelings of shame and worthlessness. Which can be paralyzing and have the opposite effect on our performance. And there’s this Louise Hay quote that I really love. You’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked.

[00:03:40] Try approving of yourself and see what happens. There’s this concept in yoga called Ahimsa, which is often translated as non violence or doing no harm. But Ahimsa is so much more than avoiding physical harm. It also includes harmful thoughts and beliefs about ourselves. And when I started practicing Ahimsa towards myself, and stopped criticizing and shaming myself, life got so much easier.

[00:04:11] Ahimsa helped me end the war with myself. And I can tell you that this decision to end the war with myself has been life changing.

[00:04:21]  Firstly, I bounce back so much faster from an upset or event. When I made myself wrong, I was just adding fuel to the dumpster fire and ensuring that I would feel bad for longer. Now that I’ve stopped doing that, I seem to get over crappy events much faster because I’m not wallowing in self loathing.

[00:04:44] I don’t shame myself for feeling bad. The second reason is that I have so much more energy. Being constantly at war with ourselves, picking fights with ourselves, and the non stop criticism and judgment, it’s exhausting. And when I stopped all that internal drama and conflict, I had so much more energy to spend on the things that I really valued.

[00:05:09] The third thing that really changed is I’m a lot more focused. When we’re at war with ourselves, it’s incredibly distracting. It can really dominate our inner landscape. And we can’t criticize ourselves into a better version of ourselves. Imagine how much time and energy we would have if we weren’t at war with ourselves.

[00:05:32] Imagine what we could achieve in life if we just accepted ourselves as we are.

[00:05:38] Compassion and non violence are foundational principles of yoga. And deciding not to make ourselves wrong or punish ourselves when we make a mistake is how we can apply these ancient concepts to improve the quality of our lives. And this is called living yoga off the mat. We use the tools that we practice in class, like non judgmental awareness, and apply them to life.

[00:06:03] And that’s how yoga makes life better. So why are we so hard on ourselves? I think that we mistakenly believe that being hard on ourselves is motivating us to try better or try harder. But research suggests the opposite, being too critical actually diminishes our performance. Berating ourselves, criticizing and judging ourselves drains our mental energy, leaving little in the tank to perform at our best.

[00:06:33] And all of this self criticism and self loathing can lead to anxiety. And punishment’s not a great form of motivation. Positive reinforcement and reward are far superior forms of motivation. And if positive reinforcement works for children and puppies, it might just work for us too.

[00:06:55] Now, it’s easy to get addicted to self criticism. As it evokes such a strong visceral reaction in us, and anything that makes us feel, whether positive or negative, has a charge associated with it. And self criticism is highly charged. Almost electric. So if we’re used to being numb and disconnected, an electric shock of criticism can feel better than nothing.

[00:07:21] Can help us to feel alive. And self criticism is also familiar. If we’ve been criticizing ourselves our whole lives, it will feel really strange without it. Almost like there’s something wrong. And in yoga philosophy, repetitive thought patterns create a groove or a neural pathway known as samskaras. And over time our minds will follow these grooves rather than creating new pathways.

[00:07:50] And this is how we can get stuck and become addicted to negative mental patterns. The tendency to criticize ourselves can go right back to childhood. Notice whether your inner critic’s voice sounds like a parent, an older relative, a teacher, or some other person in authority. And rather than motivating us, chronic self criticism can be paralyzing.

[00:08:17] It can keep us stuck, can put us into the freeze response, preventing us from moving forward and pursuing our goals. And constant self criticism can lead to anxiety and depression. There’s a growing body of research suggesting that self compassion is strongly linked to mental health. Greater self compassion consistently has been associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety.

[00:08:44] Self compassionate people are much less likely to ruminate on their negative thoughts or suppress them. And self compassion can also boost our mood and attitude. So why do we punish ourselves? The short answer is that we secretly enjoy it. And it might sound counterintuitive, but some of us like to punish ourselves.

[00:09:08] Self criticism and beating ourselves up are a way of punishing ourselves for our perceived flaws or being unworthy. And if that’s your thing and you’re doing it consciously, then go for it. But most of us are doing it unconsciously. And causing ourselves a whole lot of suffering in the meantime. And rather than acting as motivation, self criticism makes us feel bad.

[00:09:32] And when we feel bad, we’re more likely to engage in destructive patterns and behaviours to reinforce feeling bad. Feeling bad drives negative thoughts, spirals and rumination. It causes our body to contract with tension and lowers our mood. And then to make matters worse, we feel bad for feeling bad.

[00:09:54] Behind the mask of the critic is often a wounded child. As kids, our notions of right and wrong evolved through trial and error. We were rewarded for good behavior. Like we were allowed to have ice cream or stay up late and watch TV. And we were punished for bad behavior, like being sent to our room with no TV or no dessert.

[00:10:15] We learned quickly that when we do something wrong, we get punished. Now, if we’re human, we do the wrong thing often. Maybe not deliberately, or maybe you do, but we expect a negative consequence every time we make a mistake or error. And we tend to keep a mental tally, albeit unconscious. And while we’re no longer sent to our room or banned from watching TV, We still seek to punish ourselves to release the tension of our mistakes.

[00:10:46] And a popular way of relieving the tension of our mistakes is through self criticism and self punishment. Bizarrely, this is why feeling bad feels good. Because it’s leveling out the scoreboard and keeping us in check. And it might sound taboo, but sometimes we enjoy feeling bad. Self criticism makes us feel bad and diminishes our performance.

[00:11:10] So if you’ve had enough of the inner critic, you probably want to know how to handle it. And the simple but not easy answer is through self compassion. A core component of self compassion is acceptance. When we can accept that we’re human, we’ll make mistakes and usually do the best that we can, then we can disarm the inner critic.

[00:11:33] There’s no need to judge ourselves for being overly critical, as that only perpetuates the whole shame, criticism, punishment cycle. A better approach to ditching self criticism is to recognize that deep down, our inner critic is just trying to help us avoid failure, hurt, or embarrassment.

[00:11:52] Why do we find it so easy to have compassion and empathy for other people, yet find it so hard to extend it to ourselves? Why do we think it’s okay for other people to take breaks and time out, yet we feel lazy or undeserving if we do it? Why do we find other imperfect and flawed people beautiful, yet we refuse to accept our own flaws?

[00:12:17] Why do we hold ourselves to a higher standard than others? Are we being hard on ourselves to protect ourselves? To punish ourselves, or to overcome a deeper wound of feeling flawed or not good enough.

[00:12:32] Now there’s this central tension in spiritual life between the desire to transform and improve ourselves, and the equally strong desire to accept ourselves as we are. We could change or we could honour ourselves in the moment, but can we do both? And this is the paradox. When we open to the possibility of accepting ourselves for who we are, that attitude also includes honouring our transformation and growth.

[00:13:01] Because nothing ever stays the same. We’re constantly changing. Our body changes, our thoughts change, our beliefs change. Truly accepting ourselves as we are includes accepting change and transformation. But rather than forcing ourselves to change because of some perceived fault of not being good enough, we grow, change and mature as a natural evolution of life moving through us.

[00:13:30] And this is the process of awakening consciousness within us. Consciousness wants to awaken itself through us. The trap we can fall into is whether our desire to change or improve is driven by self hatred or self acceptance. And Sometimes our desire to be a better person or make improvements in our life is driven by an insidious self hatred.

[00:13:55] And if our desire for change is born from a belief that we’re not good enough, as we are, then this is self hatred in disguise. And attempts to change based on disguised self hatred will fail, because the inner tension and conflict it creates. And when we have this incongruence between our conscious desire to change and our unconscious feelings about worth, then we’ll stay stuck.

[00:14:21] And yoga teaches us that we’re already whole, complete and inherently worthy. Consciousness has chosen to incarnate into the unique expression that is you. It’s our programming and life experiences that have caused us to believe otherwise. And we really can’t hate or criticize ourselves into a better version of ourselves.

[00:14:44] If we want to get healthy, we can’t hate where we are. This will cause us to sabotage ourselves. If we want more success in our career or business, we have to accept where we are, even if it seems really far away from where we want to be. And if we want more love in our life, we have to accept where we’re at, and have some love for ourselves and our current situation.

[00:15:09] More love doesn’t arise from self hatred. And any flaws that we have don’t make us unworthy. The moon is filled with craters and imperfections, yet it’s admired the world over. It’s worthy as it is. Just like you. Now self acceptance differs from self approval. Approval’s just the inverse of disapproval, whereas acceptance is not part of that judgmental paradigm.

[00:15:37] It’s simply the realization that right now, in this moment, you couldn’t be different from how you are. And how you are in this moment is perfectly okay, because it couldn’t be any other way. And if you believe you’re not okay as you are, and you need to change in a way to please others, you might make earnest attempts to do so, simultaneously subconsciously resent the people who don’t accept you, and that resentment will sabotage your efforts.

[00:16:09] If you desire to change so that you can be accepted by yourself, it will also cause resentment, sabotage your success. and harm your most important relationship, the one with yourself.

[00:16:23] Now there’s often a positive intent behind our inner critic, and if we do some introspection, we might learn that our inner critic is trying to protect us in some way. Maybe it’s protecting us from making a mistake, protecting us from embarrassing ourselves, or protecting us from any criticism we may receive from others.

[00:16:46] Many of my clients have a fear of being too much, too successful, or shining too brightly. They fear that they’ll attract criticism or judgment from others, or some other negative consequence of standing out. So their inner critic tries to keep them safe from all the external judgment. and just does the job themselves.

[00:17:06] And it’s usually enough to stop us in our tracks and maintain the status quo.

[00:17:12] So how do we ditch the self criticism? Firstly, recognize when and how you criticize yourself. Often we’re unaware of our negative self talk, so awareness is the first step in making any change. And yoga and meditation are great tools for becoming aware of our inner narrative.

[00:17:34] The next step is to notice who your inner critic reminds you of. Maybe it’s a parent, a teacher, or authority figure. This might take you back to childhood and help you see some old patterns of not feeling good enough. Let your inner critic know you’re grown up now. Thank them for their concern and let them know you can handle it.

[00:17:56] third step is to accept that no one’s perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Practice compassion and kindness towards yourself. Remember that dogs respond better to positive enforcement than they do to punishment. And we’re no different.

[00:18:14] Recognize that self criticism is addictive. And that there might be a part of us that might feel like we deserve it. And learn from our mistakes. When we stuff up or do the wrong thing, we can take the lesson without punishing ourselves for it. This is called a growth mindset and will help us move forward rather than staying paralyzed in self criticism, shame, and loathing.

[00:18:40] And here’s a simple practice for you to have more compassion for yourself. Compassion’s a wonderful tool that can change our inner state, changes our brainwave frequency, and it can help to take the focus off ourselves momentarily. Can give us broader perspective. a moment to think about your close friends and family.

[00:19:06] Contemplate everything they might be going through right now. The stuff you know about and the stuff they keep hidden. Contemplate their pain and suffering.

[00:19:20] And now imagine a bubble of compassion expanding out from your heart, surrounding your friends and family. And say to yourself, May they be happy. May they be free from pain and suffering.

[00:19:41] Now consider your acquaintances and all the people you know,

[00:19:50] contemplate their collective pain and suffering,

[00:19:56] and imagine a bubble of compassion expanding out from your heart, surrounding all of your acquaintances and everyone you know,

[00:20:10] and say to yourself, may they be happy. May they be free from pain and suffering.

[00:20:20] Now consider everyone in your city. Think about everyone in your city who might be suffering right now. And send them your compassion. Imagine a bubble of compassion moving out from your heart, surrounding your whole city. Say to yourself, may they be happy, may they be free from pain and suffering,

[00:20:52] contemplate your entire country, consider the millions of people who might be suffering right now, and send them your compassion, imagine this bubble of compassion moving out from your heart, surrounding the whole nation,

[00:21:17] may they be happy. May they be free from pain and suffering.

[00:21:26] Now contemplate the whole world. Consider all living beings on the planet that might be suffering right now. And imagine a bubble of compassion. Moving up from your heart, surrounding the entire world.

[00:21:54] Send your compassion to the entire planet. May they be happy. May they be free from pain and suffering.

[00:22:02] Now consider yourself.

[00:22:10] Notice your pain and suffering.

[00:22:15] Notice everything you’ve gone through, everything you’ve endured.

[00:22:21] And allow the compassion that you so freely give to others, to surround your own heart. May I be happy. May I be free from pain and suffering.

[00:22:38] And feel a compassionate bubble surrounding you.

[00:22:44] You deserve compassion because you’re one of eight billion people on the planet. You deserve compassion because you’re alive, and you suffer,

[00:22:58] and right now there are thousands of yogis, meditators, monks and nuns sending their compassion to you, right now. They think that you’re worthy of compassion. Just for a moment, let yourself receive this compassion, and notice what a relief it is.

[00:23:25] And that’s my wish for you, my friend. All I want for you is to be happy, and free from pain and suffering.

Many of us grew up thinking we had to be hard on ourselves to succeed. We believed that criticising ourselves was the only way to improve. However, constantly criticising and being hard on ourselves often leads to feelings of shame and hopelessness. It drains our mental energy, makes us feel unworthy and puts our nervous system into freeze mode. So, why do we punish ourselves?

Behind the mask of the critic is often a wounded child. Our inner critic tries to protect us from failure, hurt, or embarrassment, reminding us of past experiences where making mistakes led to punishment or criticism. This fear of judgment or negative consequences can keep us stuck and prevent us from pursuing our goals.

As strange as it might seem, self-criticism can also become addictive because it evokes strong emotions. Anything that makes us feel, whether it’s positive or negative, has a charge associated with it and makes us feel alive. And if we’ve had a habit of being self-critical for a long time, this feeling becomes very safe and familiar and we struggle to let it go.

To ditch self-criticism, we need to practise and embrace self-compassion. When we treat ourselves with kindness and compassion, we accept the fact that we are human and that we all make mistakes. We recognise that growth and transformation are all part of the journey toward consciousness.

In this episode, I share a little about my journey of letting go of self-criticism and how learning new habits has impacted my life for the better. Becoming self-compassionate has enabled me to bounce back quicker from an upset, I have more physical and mental energy and so much more focus now that I’m no longer at war with myself.

Self-criticism perpetuates a shame cycle, it makes us feel terrible and it doesn’t lead to positive change. Compassion, on the other hand, allows us to learn from our mistakes without punishment, allowing us to move forward knowing that we are accepted as we are.

If you struggle with being self-critical, I’m sharing some practical steps to help you change those negative thought patterns and cultivate self-compassion. Make sure you stay tuned to the end of the episode where I share a beautiful guided meditation that will open your heart toward love, self-acceptance and kindness.