The word “compassion” sometimes evokes eye rolling. For some, it brings up images of overly entitled people who expect to be easily forgiven for bad behavior. Or, when we are reminded to direct compassion towards ourselves, we might think: “I’m just being a baby and I need to get over myself.”

But here’s the secret that most good therapists deeply understand: compassion is the engine of positive change. Compassion for ourselves does not make us self centered. In fact it has the opposite effect. It makes us more empathic towards others.

Self compassion is not the same as “poor me”. That’s a form of pity that only depletes our energy. Self compassion is the understanding that at any given point in your life you did the best that you could given the hand you were dealt and the level of awareness and skill you had at that time.

Compassion mobilizes energy and is a source of personal courage. Self criticism shuts us down, makes us tight and fearful, or leads to destructive rebellion from the negative messages. Think of it this way: do your friends meet challenges better when you give them words of encouragement or when you tell them they are unattractive, hopeless, or stupid?

How do we grow our compassion for ourselves and others? The development of self-compassion as a way of life depends on the cumulative effect of our daily decisions. It is a choice we make to change how we talk to ourselves. It starts by noticing the many ways we judge ourselves harshly each day.

What’s the tone of your inner dialog? Is it like having a conversation with a sergeant in the Army, one of Bravo TV’s nastiest housewives, your father, or your best friend? In your head, who are you talking to all day?

You might be surprised when you start paying closer attention to the words and tone of your inner voice. For many people that voice can be downright nasty. Some folks are pestered by an inner voice demanding perfection. Other people carry the voice of a critical parent, a snarky classmate from high school, or a bossy sibling.

One of the first steps to create a better life is noticing and naming this inner critic. By paying attention to when it comes up and identifying the words and tone, we can start the process of gaining distance from it. We can’t change these thoughts until we know they exist.

Once we get good at noticing this critical voice we can begin to respond to it more effectively. In fact, we can strive to follow this rule: each thought about ourselves must pass all three of these tests before we believe it:

Is it true?
Is it helpful?
Is it kind?

Most people are very attached to their inner critic and don’t want to give it up right away. It did serve a noble purpose at one time (hint: it’s there to keep you safe) and it can be scary to let go of that.

One good way to begin to soften your attachment to your inner critic is to ask yourself: Would I talk this way to my closest friend? To my favorite 6-year-old niece or nephew? To a loving grandparent? Your child? If it is too harsh to say to someone you love then it is too critical to say to yourself.

You can make a commitment to yourself to soften those voices and to learn why they are there and where they came from.

Author's Bio: 

Adam D. Blum, MFT is a psychotherapist working with individuals and couples in San Francisco. He specializes in self-esteem and relationship issues. You can reach Adam at 415-255-4266 or via the web at He writes a blog on these topics at