Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Recall any moments from the day that you don't feel proud of. Write down any self-criticisms, judgements, or anything that caused you self-inflicted pain.
Traffic came to a stop because of an accident that blocked the road. As I got out of my car the man from the vehicle behind me came up and asked if I knew what had happened. Before I even realized what he was asking I shook my head "No" out of instinct because he had missing teeth and wore dirty work clothes. I had immediately classified him as a probable drug user that was asking for something from me before I had even heard his question. I felt ashamed and disappointed in myself that my brain had come up with a judgement before I could understand the situation. I hadn't shown him kindness, only judgement.
Label the emotions that came up in these moments of self-criticism or challenging interactions. Can you name these emotions without any further judgement. Some time has passed, so can you be removed from emotional reactions and objectively list what you felt.
I was taken off-guard because I didn't see the man walking up from behind me. I felt defensive and slightly repulsed by him. The moment I realized my prejudice I felt regret, shame and guilt.
Console yourself with some supportive words of compassion and understanding. You are not excusing your words or actions. Instead, you are highlighting an opportunity for growth. Acknowledge how you could have behaved differently and perhaps you can break a pattern and catch yourself before you feel shame or sadness in the future. Most of us find it easy to tell our friends, "It's ok, you're only human. Everyone makes mistakes." but we aren't as quick to offer ourselves that same graciousness. Be that kind friend to yourself and gently offer yourself comfort.
It's understandable that I was on the defensive. I was in an area that I didn't know at the site of an accident and I didn't notice the man walking up from behind me. It's ok that I felt protective but it wasn't right to judge him. When I pass someone on the street I will try to notice my prejudices and offer them thoughts of compassion and kindness.
THE NEUROSCIENCE OF WHY IT WORKS
People often use Criticism as a defense mechanism. They would rather bring themselves down before others can. In fact, research has shown that the body reacts to negative self-talk as a threat. The nervous system activates the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares your body for fight or flight. In this state your brain's executive functioning abilities are limited since the focus is allocated on fighting the threat. Enduring stress can often lead to chronic stress, which has long term affects on the health of your mind and body.
Self-Compassion on the other hand is linked to the care system that kept herds and tribes together and safe. When we practice self-compassion we can down-regulate the defense system. . When we shift to the Parasympathetic Nervous System, oxytocin and endorphins are released, which helps reduce stress and increase feelings of safety and security.
For more reading on this topic check out these pages:
Neurophysiological and Behavioural Markers of Compassion
Improve Connectivity of Brain Areas Underlying Executive Cognitive Function with Mindfulness
Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function
Tame Reactive Emotions by Naming Them
The Transformative Effects of Mindful Self-Compassion