FREE to Choose Compassion
When you're in the trance of self-judgment, it can be nearly impossible to remember that you have the freedom to choose how you respond to your circumstances. If you are new to practicing self-compassion, or if an especially triggering event has evoked an intense response from your inner critic, it can feel like you are 100% at its mercy. In such moments, its words can hold a kind of tyrannical power that is painful and seemingly inescapable.
Reclaiming your power from your inner critic usually takes practice, because if you've been relentlessly judging yourself for years, that habit has worn a deep groove. So, it's important to be patient with yourself and recognize that even the act of noticing that you're stuck in self-criticism is compassionate. While it is revolutionary, the process of declaring independence from these habit patterns doesn't usually happen overnight.
Many of the people I work with feel overwhelmed, especially when they first hear about self-compassion, at the prospect of being kind to themselves. When I hear that someone feels this, I normalize the fact that when we are self-critical it can feel nearly impossible to access kindness and compassion. For some people, it doesn't even make sense at first. And then, if you are able to to be kind, there can be what Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer (two pioneers in self-compassion research and practice) have termed "backdraft" ~ a flare-up of self-criticism and discomfort. I find that it's helpful to normalize this, too. We often have an expectation that our growth will be linear and that it will make sense to our rational minds. I have rarely found this to be the case. I have found that curiosity and a willingness to experiment are potent tools in the cultivation of self-compassion.
With that in mind, here is a four-part practice to help you reignite the spark that knows you are FREE to choose compassion:
Face your experience
Remember your deeper truth
Engage with curiosity
1. Face your experience. Name what's happening as factually as you can. You might say, "My inner critic is very loud right now, and the things it says feel familiar and true."
2. Remember your deeper truth. A part of you knows that the critic does not have the market cornered on truth. Name that. You might say, "Even though the inner critic is very loud and convincing right now, there is a part of me that sees this situation differently."
3. Engage with curiosity. Inquire with yourself about this experience: "I wonder what this is about?"
4. Experiment compassionately. Try a fresh response to this situation. That might mean going for a walk around the block. Or it might mean putting your hand on your heart and taking three long breaths. It might mean creating a declaration of independence from your inner critic and signing it with a flourish. Give yourself permission to try something new.
While I've focused here on the ways that you can remember to be compassionate with yourself when the inner critic takes over, this practice also works when you find yourself locked into a judgment-laced disagreement with someone else ~ maybe a coworker, friend, partner or family member. In any situation, you are FREE to choose compassion.