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Compassion for self requires understanding of inner critic

Neil Rosenthal

Dear Neil: I am interested in your thoughts on how to feel compassion for myself. I can easily feel compassion for others, but when it comes to me I am extremely hard on myself. I would like to know how to be kind and compassionate to myself and put my critic/attacker aside. – Inner Critic in New ZealandDear New Zealand: Self-esteem expert Nathaniel Branden addresses this question in “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” (Bantam) by saying, “I can condemn some action I have taken and still have compassionate interest in the motives that prompted it. I can still be a friend to myself. This has nothing to do with alibiing, rationalizing or avoiding responsibility. After I take responsibility for what I have done, I can go deeper – into the context. A good friend might say to me, “This was unworthy of you. Now tell me, what made it feel like a good idea, or at least a defensible one?” This is what I can say to myself.”When we allow ourselves to experience our emotions and accept them, understanding and compassion for ourselves is possible. Try this exercise: On paper, find something of which you are critical and judgmental about yourself. Write down exactly what your inner critic says to you (example: “You’re so incompetent, don’t even bother trying, and then you won’t feel so much like a failure.” Or “I have to prepare you for the worst.” Or “You have to pay for past mistakes.”) Write down all the responses that your inner critic says to you. Then get in a comfortable position, close your eyes and take several long, slow, deep breaths. Allow yourself to return, in your imagination, to the scene where you said or did something that you are regretful or critical of yourself for. Where were you? What time of day was it? What were you wearing? Who else was around? What were you thinking and feeling? Now, holding on to that image, ask yourself: “What was I trying to do? What was my motive? What fear was I trying to lessen? What desire or feeling was I trying to express? What was I trying to avoid? What fear or pain was I influenced by?” Review the entire emotional context of the event. You will likely come to realize that you were trying to meet your needs or avoid pain in the only way you could think of at that time. Perhaps, in hindsight, you realize you could have done better, but at the time, you were trying to express something important to you or mitigate fear and/or pain. What do you say to yourself that undermines your belief in yourself and attacks your self-esteem? When viewed in the context of the larger story, what were you trying to say or do? How else might you have accomplished such a goal? No doubt you could have handled the situation better. But why are you allowing this to mean that you are somehow inferior or unworthy of compassionate and friendly benefit of the doubt? You might also try answering the following questions to help you keep perspective about your positive and healthy traits rather than just your negative ones:- What do like about yourself? – What are your strengths as a person? A friend? A lover? A spouse? A parent? A family member? At work? At home? Socially?- How do you approve of or appreciate yourself?- How are you unique? – What can you do to take better care of yourself? Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303-758-8777 through his Web site, http://www.heartrelationships.com.Vail, Colorado


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