by Jo Brilhart, RN, Psy.D.

If you are anything like the rest of us, you have an inner critic who is alive and well. This internal voice loves to tell you when you have done something wrong, might possibly do something wrong, or might be seen by other people as doing something wrong. Sound familiar?

Perhaps you can’t relate to the concept of an inner voice constantly sitting in judgment. Maybe for you, it comes as a vague feeling of dread after you’ve said or done something you regret.

However it shows up in your life, this self-criticism can be toxic. According to Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, research professor at the University of Houston, this inner critic is actually the voice of shame. Dr. Brown has spent years studying shame and its devastating impact.

Most people don’t want to think about shame, let alone discuss it. But we must talk about it if we hope to overcome its crippling grip on our lives. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brown emphasizes the importance of recognizing and acknowledging shame when it washes over us, then talking about it with someone we can trust to listen without judgment.

One of the most effective ways to overcome shame, according to Kristin Neff, PhD, is through a practice of self-compassion. This Buddhist concept of treating ourselves with the loving kindness we often give to others is not the same as self-pity. Rather than wallowing in personal suffering, which leads to isolation and separation from others, self-compassion is about recognizing our own humanness and helping us feel more connected to others.

Some ways to begin to foster self-compassion:

  • Pay attention: Start to notice and catch yourself being self-critical (putting yourself down, comparing yourself to others, demanding perfection from yourself).
  • Talk back: Answer the negative self-talk and self-critical comments with positive ones (i.e. reassure yourself that it’s ok, it’s not the end of the world, everyone makes mistakes).
  • Treat yourself the way you would treat others: Imagine how you would talk to a dear friend if she/he were feeling self-critical, and begin to talk to yourself in that same way.
  • Mindfulness: Begin a practice of mindfulness or self-compassionate meditation.

Dr. Kristin Neff has written a book on self-compassion, and her website features recorded, guided self-compassion meditations. For more information, check out these sites:

Brené Brown, PhD: https://www.brenebrown.com
Kristin Neff, PhD: www.self-compassion.org

Jo Brilhart, RN, Psy.D., is a member of The Therapist Group at Maria Droste Counseling Center. She provides individual therapy and equine facilitated psychotherapy and coaching. Maria Droste Counseling Center is a collection of 27 individual therapists from many disciplines with many backgrounds and areas of expertise, including marriage counseling, stress management, grief counseling, addiction counseling, and family therapy.