11 May

Taming your inner critic

[A stress management technique]

David is a typical Grade 12 student, he strives to get good grades, does his homework assignments on time once in a while but prefers to hang out with his friends. His final exams are coming up and he has just realized that his procrastination has gotten in the way of his studying. He is starting to feel anxious as the first exam date comes into sight. Sleepless nights, worrying, and even a slight feeling of panic. As his parent, or older sibling, or teacher what would you tell him to do?

“Stop your wining, just focus on what you have to do. Worrying about what you have to do
won’t help you. You did this to yourself. You need to be more disciplined or you will never make it in life.”

Or would your approach sound more like this

“It’s not too late to come up with an action plan. You’ve got this, I have faith in you. Let’s sit down together and figure it out. But first, let’s work on calming you down. What do you  think about a walk around the block? We’ll go get you your favourite ice cream.”

I am hoping you would choose the second approach, showing David compassion, empathy and kindness. You would show David that you understand, try and motivate him with your words, and distract him from his anxiety so he can be more productive.

How about your self-talk? Think back of the last time you were feeling stressed, or anxious, or worried. How did you talk to yourself? What words did you choose? Were you compassionate and understanding? Or self-critical and self-judgmental?

I’m willing to bet that your thoughts are mostly self-critical, harsh, and unmotivated. It seems to be easier to show compassion for someone else, than to be self-compassionate. But what does it mean to have compassion? The three main components are
1. Notice that the person is suffering
2. Feeling the suffering of others, a desire to help, a kindness towards the person for their mistakes
3. An understanding that suffering and pain are part of the human experience

Self-compassion is all this, towards yourself. It is realizing that you are in some form of discomfort, be it physical pain, emotional distress, or when you dislike something about yourself. And with this realization you add a sense of acknowledgement and you ask yourself

“What do I need at this moment to make myself feel less stressed/anxious/angry/etc…?”.

The goal of self-compassion is striving towards feeling happy and healthy in the long run, that you honor your own humanness, allowing yourself to make mistakes without beating yourself up for it.

What does your inner-critic sound like? When you are feeling stressed or worried, write down your thoughts. What do you sound like? What words do you use? Are they helpful? Do your words motivate you? And lastly, ask yourself “In order to not feel stressed/anxious/worried, what do I need?”.