Alia always considered herself to be a self-aware person. She prided herself on being able to introspect and recognise her thoughts, emotions and behaviour, and had a keen sense of her strengths and weaknesses. But lately, her self-awareness has gotten muddled with something more sinister. This made every mistake she made, every misstep she took, seem like a confirmation of her worst fears about herself. She would ruminate for hours, replaying conversations and interactions, searching for evidence to support her negative self-talk. Her once-confident exterior was eroding, and she found herself retreating from situations that used to excite her. Her relationships suffered, as she withdrew from friends and family, convinced that she was not worthy of their attention or affection.
Alia's story parallels many of my other clients. We all like to believe that we are introspective and in touch with our emotions, but what we often fail to recognize is the insidious way that self-awareness can become entangled with an inner critic. Alia's story was a powerful reminder of the pitfalls of mistaking the inner critic as self-awareness, of the danger of allowing our thoughts to spiral into negative self-talk and self-doubt.
In order to disentangle the two, it requires us to undertake a journey that requires us to cultivate compassion in self-awareness. Here are a few ways one can do that:
Notice and acknowledge your inner critic: When you become aware of your inner critic, acknowledge its presence and recognize that it is a part of you. Observe its workings.
Differentiate: Differentiate your inner critic from self awareness. Notice how they each sound. Ask yourself, “is this coming from a space of empathy, non-judgement and curiosity or is this coming from a space of doubt or self-hate?” When talking about flaws, notice whether the goal of this voice is unattainable perfectionism or growth.
Practice self-compassion: Yes, this has been said multiple times but one of the ways to test if you're truly being compassionate towards yourself is to see if you treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would give to a loved one, even when you make mistakes or encounter difficult emotions.