Insights: Compassion or Criticism?

Share this:

To Do ListI stood there looking at how once again I had only got through half of my “to do” list because I did not set my priorities in line.

I then sat down on my couch, frozen in my ability to get anything done because I was too busy beating myself up emotionally, spending the next few hours in a funk before deciding to stop the criticism and have some compassion for myself and all I was attempting to complete.

It was amazing how quickly my mood picked up once I changed how I looked at my non-completed “to do” list. I find this is a common issue for most of us. We put so much energy into criticizing, blaming or feeling stuck in what we have not done or a behavior we do not like.

If you can relate to this, I have important questions to ask you: Where does it get you to criticize yourself? Does it ever help you to be a better person, get done what you need to do or get you unstuck? Maybe on that rare occasion, but most probably, not.

When we keep being critical of ourselves, we start to rewire our brain to believe on a more global level that “we are not good enough.”

When we create a global message, our brain will keep finding ways to believe it to be true, be it positive or negative. Also, when we become critical of ourselves and for that matter, others, we not only start believing we are not capable, but also weaken our immune system, finding excuses for what is happening and using avoidant behavior to deal with it.

Instead, slow down, take a breath, and ask yourself a what, where, when or how question. Such as: What could I do differently? How might I manage this better? Where could I start in doing this more effectively? When can I start making an improvement. Or my favorite: What is this inviting me to learn?

This is called compassionate questioning. Do not ask yourself “why did I do that?” As you will notice, your brain instantly goes into finding an excuse.

I know I am able to get more done, enjoy life more and get myself out of the stuck position when I am compassionate towards myself. This does not mean you get away with making excuses for not getting things complete or not changing a behavior, it just means you stop and pay attention to what just happened and own what needs to happen next.

The point is if you bury yourself in a hole of criticism, you still have to climb out of that hole before attempting to make any changes to your behavior. That is exhausting. When you come from this neutral/compassionate part of the brain, you are using your frontal lobe. When using compassion it enables us to expand our brain to explore many options and possibilities rather than limiting us.

However, when we become critical, we are frequently in the amygdala part of the brain, which is very primal and is more reactive than responsive and compassionate. The amygdala is more likely to give you a fight or flight response, in other words, make excuses or deny the issues.

Ego is another reason we can get stuck in defensive behavior. Often when our ego gets in the way we may not be critical, but rather have a difficult time taking responsibility for our behavior. This again is not coming from a place of compassion. Remember, compassion is about looking at what you can learn from your mistakes, from your challenges, from what does not work for you. It is not about making excuses, denying, or blaming others for what is not working. Best of all, it just feels really good coming from compassion, not just for yourself but for those around you.

As the Dalai Lama once said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Dr. Shelly Zavala can be contacted at or [email protected]

Share this: