- Dr. Amber Cohen
The Bully Within
The most universal difficulty my clients face is a lack of self-compassion. Hardly anyone comes in saying, “I need to work on how hard I am on myself,” but they should. Our self-critical voice is a feedback loop never allowing us to recognize that we deserve and can benefit from being kinder to ourselves. We wholeheartedly believe the self-abuse, so there is no stimulus for change.
Often people believe they need their self-critical voice to maintain motivation to reach goals and self-improve. In fact, research shows that self-compassion supports goal attainment and self-improvement. Self-criticism is related to ineffective thought rumination and procrastination. In short: Self-criticism sucks!
Think about someone you have taught or supported with a difficulty – did you criticize and berate them? Likely, you used a strengths-based approach, kind words and constructive feedback. If you had used critical negative words, they probably would have become stressed, anxious, upset and unable to think clearly. Therefore, a general rule I like to follow is: If I wouldn’t say it to a loved one, I choose to not say it to myself.
The first step in overcoming your inner-bully is building awareness of it. Here are some ways to begin to increase awareness:
Notice labels you use to describe yourself like “stupid,” “awkward,” “broken” or “ugly.”
Watch thoughts of perfectionism. Perfectionistic standards about yourself and your performance are often tied to a self-critical voice.
Use your behaviours to flag your awareness. For example, if you find yourself procrastinating, start to notice what you are saying to yourself when you are thinking of these tasks.
Take note of how often you compare yourself to others and believe you are coming up short. The “less-than” approach is self-critical.
Critical or negative feedback from others can trigger our self-critical voice, so work to increase your awareness during these times.
If your thoughts sound like an army drill sergeant during hell week, you can benefit from change. Take stock of your beliefs and thoughts about yourself; if they lean toward the critical then start to increase your awareness. The road to self-compassion takes time and work – let’s start the ride!
Until next time!