Befriending your Inner Critic with Self-Compassion in Recovery
Author: Cindy Engelstad B.A. ICF
Many people experiencing an eating disorder also tend to realize they have a harsh internal critic which can make recovery harder. This cruel and often catastrophizing voice seeks to keep you in a state of anxiety, isolation and hopelessness. Recovery is a time when utilizing self-compassion and quieting your outspoken inner-critic is vital.
Evidence continues to point to self-compassion as an effective tool for regulating emotions. When the nervous system detects kindness, it gets the message that the threat is over and enables a fully functioning conscious state to return. Self-compassion allows us to return to our true self and regain our power, wisdom, and ability to act from choice. Self-kindness can move us out of the misery the inner critic creates as we are challenged with life’s difficult moments.
Most humans come with a negativity bias, we catastrophize, we judge others harshly and can be shockingly cruel to ourselves. So many of us have a core belief that we are unloveable or that our existence is only justified if we accomplish all kinds of feats. Self-esteem tends to rely on performance, achievements and comparison with others, whereas self-compassion seeks to bring us back to our full selves.
It can be helpful to recognize your inner-critic as a part of you that is working overtime to try to keep you safe and ward off danger. When we look closely, our inner critic actually cares and is acting out of concern, it is just using the maladaptive technique of self-criticism to do so. Once we are able to recognize that our inner critic wants us to be happy but doesn’t know a better way to go about it — we can then seek to be kind and compassionate to this part of ourselves, because at some level the inner critic does have our best interest at heart. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, recognizing and then thanking your inner-critic can actually serve as a useful strategy as this begins to move us out of the threat defence system and into our other safety systems. Once we can recognize that the inner critic is activated, it is then time to choose self-compassion from a place of kindness.
By choosing self-compassion instead of self-judgement we can then begin to sooth and care for ourselves from a place of gentleness and affection. We can then return to emotional balance and make wise, conscious decisions. Self-compassion can feel challenging at first, but we like to remind clients that it is a practice, and it will take just that…practice! The next time your inner-critic has self-criticism to offer, instead of beating yourself up, thank your inner-critic for it’s effort and then choose the strategy of offering yourself compassion instead.
When things are hard, or when the body is under stress or malnourished, our nervous system registers a threat and throws us into a state of fight, flight or freeze, this is often when the inner critic can be heard loudest. This quickly triggered threat defence system is a survival mechanism that encourages the body to use all its resources to protect and defend itself against attack…even when there is no actual attacker. While in fight, flight or freeze, we are not fully ourselves and then can struggle to access our wise-mind or recovery voice because we are not in conscious choice. Staying in this state for long periods of time we suffer from the effects of stress and anxiety.