For a long time, self-criticism and I have been the best of friends. Recently, I’ve been inviting more self-compassion into my life. As self-criticism is the opposite of self-acceptance, and given that it hasn’t motivated me to be the person I want to be, as I believed it would, I thought I would try something different.
In her Ted Talk on self-compassion, Kristin Neff makes the connection between self-criticism and unhealthy, high stress on the body. “When we criticize ourselves, we are tapping into our body’s threat defence system, the reptilian brain.” Neff talks about how when we feel threatened, in this case by our thoughts, the body releases adrenaline and cortisol as a fight or flight response mechanism.
She says, “Self-criticism releases a lot of cortisol. If you are a constant self-critic, you will have constantly high levels of stress, and eventually the body to protect itself will shut itself down, and become depressed in order to deal with the stress.”
Instead, Neff suggests that we tap into our mammalian caregiving system. “By giving ourselves compassion, we reduce our cortisol levels and release oxytocin and opiates, the feel good hormones.” I also agree that we are better able to function from this place. While tapping into this caregiving system isn’t easy, when we can grow to accept more and more of who we are, we have less need for our inner critic, thereby lessening the stress of constant self-rejection.