“Gosh, I really could have done that better. I could have been more spontaneous with my presentation. I should have been able to memorize it and speak off the cuff, rather than resort to reading in from my script. Why can’t I be better?”
These were just a few thoughts running through my head after the recent Vibrantly-You Symposium held at La Costa Resort last Friday. I shared my near-death experience of almost dying from falling off a kayak and holding onto a rock in the middle of the Lower Salmon River in Idaho this past July. I was literally clinging on for dear life and didn’t want to let go of my grasp, fearing the raging rapids below. To read the entire story, please click on this link, “The Ultimate Letting Go”
Now I was in the middle of another river – my mind’s critical waves of self-deprecation. Of course, I had wanted to be able to speak freely, but to be honest, I was worried that I would break down and not be able to get through the story without sobbing. I wanted to share it in a way that was clear and understandable, not incomprehensible gasping between words.
Although many women came up to me after my presentation and shared how intensely moved they were from my story, I still couldn’t help but criticize myself for needing to read this part. Wasn’t I an experienced enough speaker to be able to do this without a script?
Why do we have such finely tuned inner critics?
For me, one very explainable reason for my intensely developed inner critic involves my upbringing. I am the youngest of four children, having been raised by two German immigrants. My father was a Freudian-trained psychiatrist and my mother, a psychologist. Yes, some people are amazed that I am as “healthy” as I am, but this still doesn’t stop the demons inside from automatically chiming in on daily experiences!
Luckily, from this life-threatening experience on the river, I gained some valuable lessons about “letting go” and having the faith and courage to withstand the rapids below. Even more, lessons come to me every day. At the Symposium, my lesson was to let go of my ego, aka my inner critic, regarding my “performance”. The ultimate goal of my story was to communicate the fear we face in our lives and to let go of the “rocks” which we think are “saving” us.
So this led me to think about self-compassion.
How can we be more compassionate to ourselves?
To be more compassionate to ourselves, we first need to understand what being compassionate to others involves. Dr. Kristen Neff, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, helps explain this very simply.
- Is the ability to notice the suffering of others.
- Involves feeling moved by others’ suffering – allowing your heart to respond to their pain.
- Is feeling the need to care and desire to help in some way.
- Is the offering of understanding and kindness rather than harsh judgment.
- Realizing that suffering, failure and imperfection is part of the shared human experience.
She further emphasizes, “You may try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are worthless or unacceptable as you are. Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness….The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all fellow human in the experience of life.”
How beautifully stated! Every day we are challenged by life. Do we choose to face these challenges with self-compassion or harsh judgment? In this New Year, I vow to myself that I will change my critical self-talk and start practicing self-compassion – speaking to myself with kindness and forgiveness. I hope that you will too!
If you would like to share your thoughts about your own inner critic, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next month, I will be creating an online forum for sharing comments.
For more information about a healthier way to relate to yourself, please visit Dr. Kristen Neff at her website: www.self-compassion.org.