Have you ever noticed the voice in your head? You know, the one that narrates everything that goes on around you? Have you ever noticed the way that voice sounds or how that voice speaks to you? A lot of people notice that their internal voice tends to be remarkably mean—the voice will say hurtful or cruel things, point out every flaw or mistake, and distort reality in a way that confirms insecurities.
In CBT and DBT we recognize and acknowledge the connection between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors—they’re all interrelated. If that voice in your head is constantly bringing you down, it can be really hard to have positive self-esteem or to feel good about yourself, others, and the world around you. If the voice in your head is negative and bringing you down regularly, this can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, low self-worth, and insecurity. And because emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are all connected, if you think this way and feel this way, your behaviors are likely to be impacted as well. What this means is that if your thoughts are mean-spirited (“No one cares about you,” “of course you made that mistake at work, you’re a failure,” etc.) and cause you to feel depressed, you might stay in bed all day. Or, if your thoughts are telling you that you are not smart, funny, capable, and lovable, then you might choose to decline that promotion at work, you might not put yourself out there to form new relationships, or you might continue to engage in maladaptive behaviors to cope with these thoughts and feelings, which ultimately causes you to feel worse and continue this cycle.
Becoming more compassionate towards yourself means that you start treating yourself like you would treat a close family member or friend. Most of the time, we would never speak to our loved ones the way we speak to ourselves. Have you ever asked yourself why? Usually, it is because the expectations we hold of ourselves are so high and unrealistic, we’d never expect anyone else to be able to perform to that standard. Or, we can acknowledge how mean-spirited these thoughts are and we would never say them to someone else because we would never want them to feel as bad as we feel. It’s kind of eye-opening when you view thoughts in this way, and it can put things in a new perspective for us.
When we start to treat ourselves with more compassion, we open up an internal dialogue to explore the issues we’re going through with more curiosity. For example, if you say to yourself, “Well, I should be able to just ____ (eat right/go to bed at a certain time/complete a task for work/workout/etc.)!” the conversation pretty much ends there. There doesn’t tend to be much follow up beyond the shame and disappointment you might feel after judging yourself for not doing enough. The shame and disappointment might even lead you to avoid a task or give up—taking you further from your original goal. If you instead could say in a more compassionate, curious tone, “I wonder why that happened?” or “This is my goal and what I’m doing isn’t helping me reach my goal. What can I do differently?” that opens a path for you to be able to problem solve and not be as emotionally dysregulated.
Here are some things you can start doing to be more compassionate toward yourself:
- Use mindfulness skills to observe the thoughts in your head, start by just noticing the ‘tone’ of your thoughts and the language you use. Catch yourself using judgments like “I’m stupid/dumb/worthless” or “I shouldn’t ___.” Try re-wording those statements to get rid of the judgements: state just the facts, “I got a C on this test. I’m disappointed because I studied really hard and was hoping to do better.” vs. “I’m such an idiot.” You can even take it a step further with that first statement and add in problem solving strategies: “I studied really hard for this, I’m going to talk to the teacher to see if there are more effective studying strategies I can utilize.”
- After you start noticing the thoughts and judgments, if you’re having a hard time rewording them nonjudgmentally—think about what you would say to a friend and how you would say it. Adopt the same language, tone, and caring that you would give to a friend. Notice the difference!
- Some times it helps to look at things from a different angle. Imagine if you verbalized your struggles to a trusted friend, what would that friend say to you? If you’re not sure, notice your own negative thinking and actually talk to that trusted friend, compare and contrast the difference in what you were thinking vs. what that friend actually said to you.
- Simple mantras and reminders can go a long way. If you notice a negative thought, try saying to yourself, “I’m doing the best I can.”
- Throughout your day, compliment yourself or give yourself some self-encouragement. A simple, “I rocked that!” or “Good job, me!” will help you realize how well you’re actually doing and can start to change your perspective.
About the Author
Maria Mangione (she/her), M.A., LPCC is a licensed clinical counselor that specializes in dialectical behavior therapy. Maria works to help people develop the tools they need to develop trust in themselves and build their life worth living. Maria believes in having meaningful connections with her clients and believes that therapy and healing can be fun. Click Here to learn more about Maria’s experience and therapeutic style.
Learn more about self-compassion on Dr. Kristin Neff’s website.