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How to be a better friend to yourself

February 13, 2023
Jo Gray

Our relationship with ourselves is arguably the longest and most important relationship we will ever have. How we feel about ourselves and the way we talk to ourselves about who we are and what we’re worthy of can have a direct impact on the way we live our lives and our relationships with others.

Everyone has an internal dialogue or inner voice that provides a running commentary. Although our inner voice can be friendly and keep us motivated towards our goals, some people experience more self-critical thoughts. Have you ‘heard’ any of the below before?

  • “I can never do anything right”
  • “Nobody wants to speak to me. I don’t have any friends”
  • “I got that question wrong. I’m so stupid”
  • “I’m not good enough”
  • “I always fail”
  • “I’ll make a fool of myself if I talk to that person”
  • “I’m not capable of doing that”

If anyone else said those things to us, we might well feel hurt, upset and angry. But how often are we saying these things to ourselves?  

The ‘two teachers’ metaphor created by Paul Gilbert really illustrates the difference that can exist between the way we talk to loved ones and the way we talk to ourselves.

Imagine you’re the parent of a small child who has two teachers at school. The first teacher points out your child’s mistakes, gets irritated easily and focuses on everything they're doing wrong. They say things like, “why can’t you sit down nicely like the other children?” and “you need to try harder”. The second teacher encourages your child to take pride in their work and looks for strengths in them. They prefer to say, “I see you’re struggling with this, so let’s work out what help you need” and “I like what you’ve done here. Can you do more of that?”

Which teacher would you like for your child? Will they help your child learn, grow and build their confidence? Which teacher sounds most like the way you talk to yourself?

If self-criticism is a habit you’d like to change, here are 4 ways to tackle your inner critic and build self-compassion.

  1. Recognise the critical internal dialogue. Take a step back and ask yourself what your inner critic is saying. When does it tend to appear? What makes it worse? Does it say the same kinds of things?

    It can be helpful to jot down those thoughts and see if you can spot any patterns. If we are aware of our self-critical thoughts, then we are better able to choose how or whether we respond to them.  

  1. Create some distance between the thoughts and yourself. Practice unhooking from those unkind thoughts. Watch this video for a useful exercise you can use to practice ‘thanking your mind’ and redirecting your attention back to doing what matters when self-critical thoughts arise.

  1. Challenge your inner critic. Self-criticism can become a real habit and we might not always be aware that we’re doing it, let alone think to question it!  
    It can be helpful to try challenging our harsh thoughts to see if we can find a more balanced perspective.  

    Try putting pen to paper and writing down statements to counter some of the negative thoughts. Are you really a failure or are you a human who makes mistakes sometimes? Did your friend intentionally ignore you when they walked past you or were they distracted by their phone? Think about what the objective evidence says. This can help you create a more balanced perspective that’s based on the facts.
  1. Practice self-compassion. Instead of feeding your inner critic, build on your inner caretaker. When you notice a harsh or hostile thought, see what it’s like to counter it with a kind statement or action.

    For example, in response to a self-critical thought ‘I’m useless’ it could be helpful to notice how that thought has made you feel.  If you recognise feelings of sadness or frustration, how might you respond to those in a kind way?  If you’re finding this difficult at first, ask yourself: what would I say or do if a loved one told me they were thinking or feeling this way?  

If your inner critic and self-criticisms are leading to anxiety or low mood, or interfering with your ability to thrive then cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help. Find out more about online CBT with ieso here.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
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