I bet if I asked you to tell me the last time you said something mean to yourself, you could easily rattle off several examples in detail – the situation and who was involved, what you said to yourself, how you felt.
But what if I asked you, “When is the last time you said something kind to yourself?” Could you answer that question?
There are two things I most commonly hear women say about their harsh self-criticism: “I’m just being honest” (about my performance, role, reaction, etc.), or “It keeps me motivated to do better next time.”
In other words, women believe that being mean to themselves serves them well.
However, research shows the opposite is true – being critical of ourselves reduces our ability to deal with difficult situations. It most certainly does not give us the tools and resources we need to “do better.”
That’s because being critical of ourselves triggers a sympathetic nervous system response, pouring fight-or-flight hormones into your body to optimize systems that can help you physically escape your situation (i.e. increased heart rate and blood flow to muscles). The neural networks you need to contemplate and problem-solve are shut off to you in the process, decreasing self-confidence and increasing anxiety.
Being kind to yourself and practicing self-compassion, on the other hand, triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, helping you to feel calm and relaxed and better able to focus on finding a solution to the situation you're facing.
Isn’t it just like our loving God to create our body in a way that provides us what we need when we’re loving to ourselves?
When we notice we’re having a critical thought, we can do what Scripture directs us to do in 2 Corinthians 10:5: we take it captive and hold it obedient to Christ.
Here’s how it works:
Notice your thought. What am I saying to myself in this moment?
Is it kind? Try writing the thought down for a fresh perspective, or repeat it out loud pretending you’re saying it to your best friend. (Ouch!)
Is it true? In her book “Enough,” author Sharon Jaynes points out that “truth” is one of the most repeated words spoken by Jesus and the most recorded word in John’s Gospel. If you don’t know whether what you’re telling yourself is true, she suggests adding “in Jesus’ name” to the end of whatever you’re telling yourself. For example, "I can't believe I was so thoughtless, in Jesus' name." If it don’t fit, then it ain’t true!
Acknowledge how you’re feeling. How does this thought make me feel? Without judgment, notice where in your body you’re feeling tension or discomfort. Our experiences are embodied, and if we begin to tune into our bodies instead of suppressing how we feel, we will have more information with which to help us make decisions.
Be kind. What is a different, God-aligned thought you can have that moves you toward your desired outcome?
God knows you’re going to face challenging situations. He knows you’ll be tempted to base your self-worth on other’s opinions or how you perform. He knows that you will move in the direction of whatever you believe to be true.
It’s why His direction to us in Romans 12:2 is “Do not conform to the ways of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
We have a part to play in managing our minds, and thankfully our bodies are designed to support us in that endeavor. Give yourself space and grace as you practice being kinder to yourself.
If you are highly critical of yourself and need support, we should talk. I help burned out perfectionists get free from the thoughts keeping them stuck so that they can live the life God created them for.
We can chat as early as tomorrow. Just hit reply, and we’ll get something set up.
Cheering you on,