The most universal difficulty people face is a lack of self-compassion. When we engage in self-critical thought patterns, it reduces our feelings of worth which leads to distress and/or difficulties in functioning. Few people come into therapy saying, “I need to work on how hard I am on myself,” but they should. Our self-critical voice is a feedback loop never allowing us to recognize that we deserve and can benefit from being kinder to ourselves. We wholeheartedly believe the self-abuse, so there is no stimulus for change.
Often people believe they need their self-critical voice to maintain motivation to reach goals and improve themselves. In fact, research shows that self-compassion supports goal attainment and self-improvement. Self-criticism is related to ineffective thought rumination and procrastination. When we constantly criticize ourselves, it creates feelings of hopelessness and being overwhelmed. These feelings lead to demotivation and avoidance because it feels like no matter what we do, we won’t be successful. We often understand this demotivation and avoidance as “I am lazy” or “I always procrastinate” which feeds into the ineffective cycle.
Think about someone you have taught or supported with a difficulty – did you criticize and berate them? Likely, you used a strengths-based approach, kind words and constructive feedback. If you had used critical negative words, they probably would have become stressed, anxious, upset and unable to think clearly. Therefore, a general rule to follow is: If I wouldn’t say it to a loved one, I choose to not say it to myself. There is a lot of therapeutic work that can be done to increase self-compassion which can then increase self-esteem, motivation and help you achieve your goals.