In the last post, we began to understand how self-criticism plays a big role in keeping depression in place. If you are depressed, there’s a good chance you’re quite harsh in the way you relate to yourself. However, it’s so important to begin to change your relationship with yourself to one of greater compassion and support. Not only is it important for healing your depression and experiencing emotional well-being, but there’s evidence to suggest that self-compassion supports overall health. When we treat ourselves in loving ways, our nervous systems respond and it greatly increases our chance of vitality and physical health.
So what can you do to begin to transform this ingrained way of relating to yourself? Keep in mind these are usually long-held patterns and they take time to heal, but here are some ways you can start this process.
1. Develop awareness of your self-criticism
First, you must begin to develop awareness of the way you talk to yourself. As I’ve mentioned before, this way of talking to yourself can be subtle and you may not even notice it. You must start to tune in to this voice. Start to pay attention to what story you tell yourself when something does not go well at work or in a relationship. Is your go-to story something harsh about yourself? Do you usually end up berating yourself?
At other times, it may show up as more of a feeling that comes over you. You may have to listen closely because you might not criticize yourself using words or a story. You may feel the searing sensation of shame or a sinking pit in your stomach that might be associated with swallowing your feelings of irritation. Your mind might race with anxious thoughts.
Tune into your body. When you become critical of yourself, you might notice tension show up in your chest, neck, shoulders, or elsewhere in your body. Your heart might start racing with the start of the self-criticism. Whatever it is, it will usually feel unpleasant. It will not feel like a sense of ease or well-being in the body.
2. Let go
Next, can you soften around this criticism and let go of the story you have chosen to tell yourself? It doesn’t matter if you are convinced of the story. For just this moment, can you suspend the story and feel the release of letting go? Feel your body soften and relax. Feel your mind settle. Enjoy the space this opens up, even if it is for a moment. Experience the possibility this opens up inside of you for something new. You might learn something new about yourself or the world from this open place. Self-criticism shuts us down from learning and growing.
3. Find compassion for yourself
Healing from depression involves forging a new and supportive relationship with yourself. One in which you are your own advocate. Where you can go inside yourself to find a place of safety. A relationship in which you will not abandon yourself, but will be present and compassionate with yourself.
The next time something painful happens, you have the option of responding to yourself with compassion. You might suspend your self-critical story and choose to try on a kinder story. Comforting words can begin to change your self-talk. You might tell yourself, “Although that conversation didn’t go the way I would’ve liked, I tried my best to be stay in it. I am growing and I can try again next time.” Or when you have that anxious feeling inside after a social interaction, you might respond to yourself with comfort. Rather than numb or distract from the feeling, how about doing something comforting and kind for yourself to soothe your anxiety?
Changing the way you relate to yourself might feel strange and uncomfortable at first. It takes time and small steps. Remember to seek support from people in your life you trust. Involving other people always leads to better outcomes. Although this is a long road, changing your relationship with yourself is more than worthwhile.
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