The Skinny – Amy Brunell

Self-Compassion-The Road Less Traveled?

This last week I researched the affect of self-criticism-our brains are changed by the way we think and speak to ourselves. I asked my groups this week, “Do you believe that we are motivated by being critical of ourselves?” So far everyone nods “no.” But if this is true, then why do we continue to be critical of ourselves? Why do we misunderstand the difference between being critical and self-evaluation? What is the difference anyway? If we are more self-compassionate, do we let ourselves off the hook, so to speak? If I practice self-compassion, is it just another way of indulging myself?

Today we’re going to begin to explore these questions and I’ll provide resources to further your own consideration.

Please take a moment to think of something you say to yourself critically-like for example when I lose my keys for the hundredth time, I habitually think, “What an idiot, why do you ALWAYS lose your keys?”

Next, please take a moment and feel that criticism within your body. Feel where your “inner critic” shows up? Don’t by-pass this step. It’s important that you feel where your inner critic is present.

Kelly McGonigal, PhD and senior teacher for the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education has spent her career researching the study of self-compassion. When she and her colleagues studied the brains of people who were thinking self-critically, they observed the parts of the brain that lit up, were the same centers associated with feelings of defense, threat, self-inhibition and self-judgment. Dr. McGonigal calls this the “Reactive Mode.”

Now think about for a moment what it feels like to feel defensive and threatened? Isn’t this similar to our “flight or fight” reactions? Could we assert that by being self-critical, we are actually causing ourselves to remain in constant alert and hyper awareness of threat? What would this heightened state do to our bodies? How would we feel? How would this state affect long term health?

Self-compassion asserts that in a compassionate state we can better evaluate our situation, notice the areas we are struggling, and identify our feelings. Because we are in a stronger emotional state, we are apt to be flexible towards creative solutions and/or get needed support.

In her book, Eating With Fierce Kindness, author Sasha T. Loring, M.ED., LCSW, writes, “Acknowledging a mistake, and even regretting that I made it, is very different from feeling shame, humiliation, unworthiness and general negativity of myself as a person.”

So what’s the difference between self-compassion and self-indulgence? To me self-indulgence is behaving or taking actions without taking personal responsibility. Frankly it L.A., we all probably see a lot of people being self-indulgent. It’s hard not to be critical. But please don’t further the judgment towards others. I think people self-indulge because they mistakenly believe that it is too painful to do or act differently. They settle because the habit of self-indulgence is mistakenly believed to be an act of caring for oneself. People feel that they somehow “deserve” something. That comes from a state of suffering.

This week pay attention so you can catch yourself being critical. Try to notice your body-where the “inner critic” lies. This is among the first steps to leaving the critic behind. My therapist always says, “We have to feel it to heal it.”

Next week: Part Two

The Actors' Gang


  1. This is a great article – thank you. I have mistakenly believed that too much self-compassion = self-pity or lack of responsibility, something that seems epidemic today. I see now that isn’t true. Self-compassion is focusing on the mistake, not extrapolating it to your whole self (you are worthless, you are a loser, etc). You can still strive to change while forgiving yourself and learning as you go. This really helped me today. Thank you!!

  2. I read this after I heard it at the meeting this morning. This topic is a great help. It has given me something to work on. Thank you Amy.

  3. After hearing your talk at WW today, I am going to be more aware that if I am more compassionate with myself during hard times,I am apt to be calmer and less critical of mistatkes I make. I also will rub my arm more and soothe tensions that way! Thanks for always giving us “food” for thought!

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