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Why we need to have compassion for our inner critic by Dr Kristen Neff

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by mike2014, Feb 23, 2016.

  1. mike2014

    mike2014 Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi All,

    I posted the link to this article on another thread, but wanted to share it with those of you who may have over looked it. It's an article about compassion from Dr Kristen Neff.

    We know how much it hurts. “I’m an idiot!” “I’m disgusting.” “No one will ever love me.” “What a lame-ass.”

    So why do we do it? As soon as we ask ourselves this question, we often just pile on more self-criticism. “I’m such a bitch, even to myself.” “That’s why I’m such a loser, I’m always putting myself down.”

    Don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up in the vain hope that somehow it will help you stop beating yourself up. Instead, take a step back, and give your inner critic some slack. In its ineffective, counterproductive way, your inner critic is actually trying to keep you safe.

    As humans we have two main evolved safety systems. The oldest and most quickly triggered is the threat defense system, which involves the amygdala. When we sense danger, our response is typically fight, flight, freeze, or submit: We turn and fight the threat, run like hell away from the threat, play dead in hopes the threat will pass, or show our bellies and hope the threat will be placated. These strategies are very successful for animals living in the wild, helping them to survive and pass on their genes. For humans, however, these responses often just make things worse. That’s because the threat we’re usually facing is a threat to our self-concept. We confuse our thoughts and representations of ourselves for our actual selves, meaning that when our self-image is under siege, we react as if our very existence is threatened. When this happens, our threat defense system uses the same strategies to stay safe:

    Fight — we beat ourselves up emotionally, using cruel language to cut ourselves down.

    Flight — we become anxious and restless, fleeing from ourselves by numbing out or using distractions like food or alcohol.

    Freeze — we get stuck in rumination, thinking about our perceived inadequacies over and over again.

    Submit — we admit that yes, we’re terrible, and accept all the harsh judgments we throw at ourselves.

    More often than not we engage in some combination of all these strategies. Our stress levels go up as our amygdala activates our sympathetic nervous system (which arouses us so we can deal with threats) and floods our system with adrenaline and cortisol. And it’s a double whammy because when we criticize ourselves, we are both the attacker and the attacked. This type of chronic stress can eventually lead to anxiety and depression, undermining our physical and emotional wellbeing.

    Still, it’s important to remember that when our inner critic attacks, at root it is trying to ward off danger. Marshal Rosenberg, author of the book Non-Violent Communication, says self-criticism is the “tragic expression of an unmet need.” It’s tragic because self-criticism makes us feel horrible and doesn’t effectively motivate productive change. (See my blog “The Motivational Power of Self-Compassion.”) But if we look closely — our inner critic cares. There is some safety need it is trying to meet. Our inner critic wants us to be happy, but doesn’t know a better way to go about it. Let’s say you criticize yourself for not going to the gym, calling yourself a “lazy slob.” At some level, your inner critic is reacting out of concern that if you don’t go to the gym you won’t be healthy, or that you’ll be rejected by others. We can be kind and compassionate to this part of ourselves, because at some level it has our best interests at heart. And believe it or not, by giving compassion to our inner critic, we are moving out of the threat defense system and into our other safety system.

    As mammals, we also evolved the attachment/affiliation system as a survival strategy. Mammals have the innate capacity to be soothed by warmth and affection, meaning that our young are likely to stay near caregivers, be protected, and survive. The care-giving system deactivates the sympathetic nervous system (reducing cortisol) and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us down. This route to emotional safety is much more effective — reducing our stress and anxiety rather than exacerbating it. And it gives us the emotional balance needed to make wise decisions, including making behavioral changes if needed. (I write about self-compassion and the mammalian care-giving system in my blog “The Chemicals of Care.”)

    So the next time you find yourself in the throws of harsh self-criticism, instead of beating yourself up for beating yourself up, thank your inner critic for its efforts, then try the strategy of giving yourself some compassion instead. It’s more effective, and a lot less painful!

    The below is a link to various exercises to practice compassion and a meditation.

    http://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/

    I hope some of you will find this helpful.

    Best regards,
     
    Daffy Duck and giantsfan like this.
  2. Renee

    Renee Well known member

    This is such an interesting take on the inner critic! I've often wondered what if any purpose it served. My inner critic has been on fire today so thanks for posting this Mike.
     
    mike2014 likes this.
  3. mike2014

    mike2014 Beloved Grand Eagle

    It came up in another thread yesterday, but I thought it deserved it's own thread.

    @giantsfan posted the question:

    I watched her TED talk recently, but am confused a bit about something that seems contrary to what Dr. Sarno teaches. Dr. McGonigal talks a lot about helping out others and reaching out to others and how that benefits us. Where as Dr. Sarno seems to teach that doing those things is what causes us more inner rage. I'm not saying we should all stop helping one another, not at all, but I am just a bit confused about that single difference of opinions between Sarno and McGonigal. Are we to believe that doing those helpful acts that can cause inner rage as long as we think that it will help us won't cause any inner rage or anger? I hope that all makes sense (I'm typing this on my junk windows operated phone).

    To which I replied:

    I think that's an interesting question and one that doesn't have a simple answer.

    Yes, our helping others, or being people pleasers can be the source of inner rage.

    However, Kelly's point is that we can become better at improving our relationship with our inner critic by practicing various techniques such as mindfulness, loving-kindness meditation etc which are known to help increase empathy, sympathy, compassion and social connection. Practicing compassion can increase ones generous behavior as well as the brains responses to human suffering.

    Thread :

    http://www.tmswiki.org/forum/threads/stanford-stress-is-good-for-you.10672/page-2#post-61949
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2016
  4. Renee

    Renee Well known member

    Great question. But she is right, we need to become a people pleaser to ourselves! And then hopefully once we do that the rage won't be generated when we reach out to others.
     
    Daffy Duck likes this.
  5. Andy Bayliss

    Andy Bayliss TMS Coach & Beloved Grand Eagle

    This is an interesting point. My approach with the Inner Critic is more like Alan's with the Inner Bully: BACK OFF! This approach uses our life force, or healthy boundary creating energy, or "personal juice" to take care of ourselves. We use our force to create an inner space to experience whatever we are experiencing: anger, laziness, fear, etc.

    I know that Neff and others recommend a softer approach. I think this can be helpful, but I believe that it is easy to get confused and enmeshed with the Inner Critic --validate its attacks-- if this is done without discernment. We might find ourselves in a childhood place trying to please an angry adult. This softer, compassionate approach it is probably best learned after learning to use a more "boundary making" approach, as in BACK OFF! Then the softer approach can embody the boundaries more easily. The boundary-keeping is implied in an effective "compassionate approach." I think Neff does not understand this, or neglected to mention this.

    For some people a very gentle approach can work, such as "Dad, I don't need your help right now, things are OK." This is identifying the source of the attack and directing it to this source directly.

    I guess having a broad range of approaches is fine, and that we need to really tune into the situation --and the results (am I still under attack?) after using a technique, to find the best approach in the moment.

    By the way, I really like this:
     
  6. Andy Bayliss

    Andy Bayliss TMS Coach & Beloved Grand Eagle

    Reading the article again, self-compassion is probably the best application of skillful means, when we are "beating ourselves up for beating ourselves up." This is a particular type of hell realm that requires compassion for ourselves ---but not necessarily for the superego.

    I stick to what I said above about general approaches to the Inner Critic. You have to create an inner boundary in order to break up this dynamic. It is the lack of boundary that creates/maintains these responses.
     
  7. Daffy Duck

    Daffy Duck Peer Supporter

    Early on in my life when Generalized Anxiety ruled me... I learned the "Back Off!" approach to my inner bully. I did inner dialogue with a character that I drew called Mr. Anxiety. That's when I began to understand that the anxiety was meant to protect me from strong emotions. I guess learning to say "Back Off!" was implementing a form of self compassion (by boundary setting?) (I get a bit confused about the whole subject, actually) I would say I have more of a respect for myself now with all that was involved with the learning process I've gone through but I wouldn't call what I experience "Self Compassion" or even "Self Care". All I know on this search in life is I've been keeping track over the years of things that do seem to work for me. Things that help me access feeling love towards myself in a truly authentically caring way. Kristen Neff at this time in my life resonates with things I've found that work for me but I discovered in reading that I naturally did those things on my own as a way of trying to work my way out of an extremely volatile relationship with my inner self. Even though I know how to handle my anxiety when it comes and no longer fear uncontrollable attacks anymore I still wouldn't say that what I've gained is self love or compassion. Anyway, very glad to find out about Kristen Neff this evening for the first time. Thanks forum for another great resource.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2016
  8. Andy Bayliss

    Andy Bayliss TMS Coach & Beloved Grand Eagle

    I really relate to what you are saying Daffy Duck. I guess all loving roads head the same way. I would suggest, respectfully, that you have self compassion, based on what you write. I suppose it is a practice, something that comes and goes, and is not permanent. Maybe that is the best we can do. We lose it, then we realize where we are, and invoke the tools we have, and with goodwill and grace, find ourselves for awhile back in our own love. I hope so.
     
  9. mike2014

    mike2014 Beloved Grand Eagle

    "I know that Neff and others recommend a softer approach. I think this can be helpful, but I believe that it is easy to get confused and enmeshed with the Inner Critic --validate its attacks-- if this is done without discernment. We might find ourselves in a childhood place trying to please an angry adult. This softer, compassionate approach it is probably best learned after learning to use a more "boundary making" approach, as in BACK OFF! Then the softer approach can embody the boundaries more easily. The boundary-keeping is implied in an effective "compassionate approach." I think Neff does not understand this, or neglected to mention this."

    @Andy B thanks for this, it's a very important point and I agree she has forgotten to mention it.
     

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