Let’s talk more about self-criticism and self-compassion.
Your suffering isn’t just because of recurrent unwanted intrusive thoughts, chronic worry, a depressed mood, or another uncomfortable private experience. The interpretation that you shouldn’t have such an experience and that there is something bad, weak, or crazy about you for such experience creates, maintains, and intensifies your suffering too.
This type of self-criticism hurts. Perhaps it started as the voice of a critical parent or some other significant person. Sometimes you continue to receive criticism from that person and that hurts. Self-criticism, though, is you against you. The critical voice is no longer someone else’s. Now it is yours. You aren’t on your own team. The game isn’t fun and none of you is going to win.
You might criticize yourself as an attempt to control a thought or feeling that you don’t like. I suspect it “works” every once in a while, especially if by “working” you mean that you can avoid your thoughts and feelings to get relief from them for a short amount of time. It doesn’t work to alleviate suffering long-term for anyone ever. Trying to make thoughts go away will make them more likely. Suppressing feelings will make them bigger and stronger. Some people who avoid their thoughts and feelings don’t report having anxiety or depression, but they are just suffering differently.
Check out Brene Brown’s talk on The Power of Vulnerability to learn more about how numbing out our undesirable thoughts and feelings also numbs out desirable feelings like joy, trust, connection, compassion, affection, playfulness, and creativity.
You might criticize yourself because you think the best way to learn is through criticism. No worries if you’re making this mistake. It’s just an old theory. Many of us were educated this way. It isn’t true. The best way to learn is to have the safety, time, space, and motivation to try. You have to feel safe to have the courage to put forth effort and risk “failing” (see below about this). You don’t need criticism when you make a mistake while trying to learn. You just need enough safety to keep trying.
Are you on my team now? Let’s help you get on your team.
Compassion is understanding and staying with my experience.
With all this in mind, consider thinking about self-compassion as an attitude where you are willing to stay with your experience and relate to it with openness and curiosity, rather than criticism.
You can find more on the therapeutic attitude of willing acceptance here.
Here some self-talk that will likely be helpful:
Replace: “I shouldn’t feel this. Other people don’t feel this. Nothing happened that is so bad, so I shouldn’t feel so badly.”
Say: “Of course this is happening. Of course I suffer. I’m human and all humans suffer. Also, I knew this particular suffering was coming because I understand my anxiety and OCD. In the presence of a perceived threat, my mind has catastrophic thoughts that arrive with a spike of uncertainty. If I am not prepared for this, I will naturally brace against this feeling and perceived threat, and naturally, it will feel worse. Of course, this is happening to my mind because of my biological vulnerabilities. Of course, I naturally brace because this is uncomfortable. It takes a lot of self-awareness, understanding, and a good strategy to get through a moment like this without making it worse. I just got tricked in this moment, but I can learn from it. Here’s an opportunity for me to practice that strategy.”
Replace: “I’m such an idiot. Why did I do that? I always make that type of mistake. I’m never going to learn. This will have devastating consequences for me. I deserve to feel this because of what I did. I’m going to feel this forever.”
Say: “There is no failure. There is only data. I tried or am going to try that thing I care about. It will either go well or it’s exposure to thoughts and feelings that I am working to accept. Either way I learn and grow and that means I win. Even though this moment that seems like a mistake may have real consequences for me, I can still learn, grow, and change. I don’t have certainty that the way I respond now and then whatever comes next won’t be better than what I had before and that means I now have opportunity.”
Replace: “Why do I always feel this? There’s something deeply wrong with me that makes me different from others and no one else will ever understand.”
Say: “This is a good opportunity to observe and describe what’s happening within me. Because I’m a human and inherently part of the rest of the community of humans, nothing happens within me that never has or will happen to another human. It’s not that no one else will ever understand me, but rather that I currently don’t understand me. This is a hard moment, but if I turn towards myself right now, I have a chance at understanding myself and my suffering better. I might forget what I’m experiencing now when I’m not suffering, so now is the best time to observe and describe what’s happening.”