Your inner critic is actually your biggest ally.
The trouble is, it knows how to push your buttons so well that it’s easy to get hurt, defensive, or stuck in icky feelings. It’s like having a constant companion that insists on pointing out every flaw, fault, and inadequacy.
But what if the inner critic isn’t actually out to get us? What if its true motive is to keep us safe? What if with each jab it’s really sounding an alarm in order to help us, however clumsily?
My own inner critic can be the absolute worst. I didn’t have the easiest time socially growing up. My critic reminded me incessantly of the dangers other people posed; they could hurt me, betray me, humiliate me, abandon me. But it didn’t stop there. My critic decided that in order to be sure that none of that would happen, every disappointment would have to be my own fault. And I believed it for a long time. I even tried to make it my body’s fault. Everything changed once I learned to see my critic as an ally and began to be present with difficulties in a whole new way with Mindful Self-Compassion.
Mindful Self-Compassion doesn’t fix anything. It won’t change who you are. It will, however, with right effort and earnest practice, transform the way you view yourself and others, especially in times of difficulty. Self-compassion is a kind of alchemy. When we learn to stay with the hard stuff in a mindful way, a spontaneous tenderness arises. Indeed, this tenderness is often accompanied by a deep sadness, a piercing awareness of all the times we neglected, berated, or abandoned ourselves. The ability to stay with that bittersweet pain is the beginning of transformation.
It is also an important step in recovery.
So what does this have to do with food and eating? The core of self-compassion involves touching into the toughest emotion of them all: shame. Shame is the feeling of unworthiness. Shame researcher Brené Brown says it boils down to two general scripts: “You are not enough” and “Who do you think you are?” Eating and body image problems are rooted in shame compounded by negative beliefs about one’s lovability, basic goodness, or value. This sense of feeling “unfixable” leads to all kinds of coping strategies including dieting, restrictive eating, binging, purging, and excessive exercise. The cycle of shame is so hard to escape because sitting with those icky feelings can be excruciating. We tend to do anything to avoid feeling them. But with the right tools, we can learn to bear these difficulties with more ease.
Mindful Self-Compassion teaches a safe way to practice staying with tough emotions, including shame, in order to facilitate the transformation from self-loathing to self-acceptance.
This is nothing new. These practices have been fine-tuned over thousands of years by those in Eastern traditions, most notably Buddhists. Yet self-compassion requires no dogma, no specific set of beliefs. It’s all about cultivating attitudes of friendliness, openness, acceptance, and kindness in the presence of suffering. And who couldn’t use more of those?
Over the years, I’ve tried everything to change my attitude, moods, and reactions. I practiced years of yoga, went to hours of therapy, read countless books and listened to limitless lectures. But I was always missing a crucial point that, as it turns out, is implicit in mindfulness itself: I was never completing the loop of compassion by including myself.
Are you ready to befriend your inner critic?
I’d love to show you how to get on the path. Sign up for one of my mindfulness- or self-compassion-based trainings and workshops here.
More on Mindful Self-Compassion from the Center for MSC:
Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) is an empirically-supported, eight-week, training program designed to cultivate the skill of self-compassion. Based on the groundbreaking research of Kristin Neff and the clinical expertise of Christopher Germer, MSC teaches core principles and practices that enable participants to respond to difficult moments in their lives with kindness, care, and understanding.
The three key components of self-compassion are self-kindness, a sense of common humanity, and balanced, mindful awareness. Kindness opens our hearts to suffering, so we can give ourselves what we need. Common humanity opens us to our essential interrelatedness, so that we know we aren’t alone. Mindfulness opens us to the present moment, so we can accept our experience with greater ease. Together they comprise a state of warm-hearted, connected presence.
Self-compassion can be learned by anyone, even those who didn’t receive enough affection in childhood or who feel uncomfortable when they are good to themselves. It’s a courageous attitude that stands up to harm, including the harm that we unwittingly inflict on ourselves through self-criticism, self-isolation, or self-absorption. Self-compassion provides emotional strength and resilience, allowing us to admit our shortcomings, motivate ourselves with kindness, forgive ourselves when needed, relate wholeheartedly to others, and be more authentically ourselves.
Rapidly expanding research demonstrates that self-compassion is strongly associated with emotional wellbeing, less anxiety, depression and stress, maintenance of healthy habits such as diet and exercise, and satisfying personal relationships. And it’s easier than you think.
What To Expect
Program activities include meditation, short talks, experiential exercises, group discussion, and home practices. MSC is a workshop rather than a retreat. The goal is for participants to directly experience self-compassion and learn practices that evoke self-compassion in daily life.
MSC is primarily a compassion training program rather than mindfulness training like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), although mindfulness is the foundation of self-compassion. MSC is also not psychotherapy insofar as the emphasis of MSC is on building emotional resources rather than addressing old wounds. Positive change occurs naturally as we develop the capacity to be with ourselves in a kinder, more compassionate way.
It is said that “love reveals everything unlike itself.” While some difficult emotions may arise when practicing self-compassion, MSC teachers are committed to providing a safe, supportive environment for this process to unfold, and to making the journey interesting and enjoyable for everyone.
MSC includes 8 weekly sessions of 3 hours each, in addition to a 4-hour retreat. Prior to registering, participants should plan to attend every session and practice mindfulness and self-compassion at least 30 minutes per day throughout the program.
No previous experience with mindfulness or meditation is required to attend MSC. To ensure safety, participants are asked to provide background information when they register for the program.
It is recommended that participants read one or both of the following books before or during the program:
- Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, by Kristin Neff
- The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, by Christopher Germer
- For more information on MSC please visit www.CenterForMSC.org.