Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Catherine Dowling, author of Radical Awareness.
Compassion flows from spiritual experiences. When our awareness expands into the realm of spirit and we experience union with life/the universe, we can feel bathed and held in unconditional love. That love is unconditional because criticism has given way to compassion. And it feels amazing.
It can be hard to sustain that level of self-compassion in daily life. We can become accustomed to thinking that being stern and self-critical will make us perform better, achieve more, even be better people. Sometimes we think a good dose of self-criticism will make us kinder to others. The opposite is true, and there’s a wealth of scientific evidence to prove it. Here are three good reasons to be gentler, more compassionate with yourself.
- Increased Motivation: It’s hard to find anything as de-motivating as self-criticism. When we’re trying to accomplish a task: lose weight or stop smoking, for example, a 2010 study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology shows that self-criticism can be lethal. When we lapse—sneak that cigarette or dive into a tub of ice cream—self-criticism makes us feel so low that we rush to self-soothe. What we use to self-soothe is often the thing we’re trying to stop doing (smoking, over-eating, etc.). Self-criticism can drive us to the very outcome we do not want.
- Increased Creativity: Whether we’re writers, artists, musicians, tech nerds, or simply like to live a creative life, creativity involves the free flow of thoughts from the conscious and unconscious mind. Ideas bubble up, get tried out, accepted, rejected, molded into new shapes. Many of us have a little critic sitting on our shoulder telling us what we’re doing is not up to standard almost before our ideas are fully formed. A study in the Creativity Research Journal shows that self-compassion, silencing that critic, facilitates creativity and originality.
- Increased Social Connection: Self-criticism causes us to fear rejection. Fear of rejection, of not being interesting or attractive, limits our ability to feel at ease in company and make connections with other people. Lack of social connection, according to the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford, is a greater detriment to health than smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure.
The most important step towards silencing self-criticism is Awareness. A good exercise in becoming aware is to keep a self-criticism journal. Record every self-critical thought that passes through our mind for just one day. Then imagine a young, lovely, innocent child standing before us. Deluge them with the criticism from the journal. It doesn’t last long. It’s almost impossible to criticize a child the way we criticize ourselves. This awareness exercises is worth repeating regularly until we begin to find our self-criticism preposterous.
Kelly, A.C., Zuroff, D.C., Foa, C.L., & Gilbert, P. (2010). “Who Benefits From Training in Self-Compassionate Self-Regulation? A Study of Smoking Reduction.” Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 29(7): 727-755.
Zabelina, D.L., & Robinson, M.D. (2010). “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself: Self-Compassion Facilitates Creative Originality Among Self-Judgmental Individuals.” Creativity Research Journal, 22(3): 288-293.
Seppala, Emma, Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Stanford University.
Our thanks to Catherine for her guest post! For more from Catherine Dowling, read her article “5 Ways to Make Enlightenment Work in Everyday Life.”