From Self-Criticism to Self-Compassion: The Three-Step Journey

Do you constantly engage in a negative inner dialogue with yourself? If so, you're not alone. Many of us struggle with self-criticism and engage in harmful self-talk when things don't go as planned. But this constant self-critique can lead to stress and depression, according to research.

November 2023
min read
13-From Self-Criticism to Self-Compassion
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Written by
Samuel Kirk-Haugstrup

Psykolog, specialiseret i pædagogisk psykologi og formidling.

Christine Victoria Siegrist

Content Developer, Psykologistuderende ved Aarhus Universitet.

Samuel Kirk-Haugstrup

Psychologist, specialized in educational psychology and communication.

Christine Victoria Siegrist

Content Developer, Psychology student at Aarhus University.

It's time to break the cycle and turn self-criticism into self-compassion. By learning to have compassion for yourself, you can improve your mental well-being and build a stronger, more resilient inner voice. In this article, we'll guide you through a three-step journey from self-criticism to self-compassion.

Ready to get started? Let's begin by understanding the importance of self-compassion. <hl>When you engage in self-compassion, you treat yourself with kindness, understanding, and respect<hl>. It means letting go of harsh judgments and embracing a more positive and supportive inner dialogue.

So, how can you cultivate self-compassion? It all starts with practice. Here are three steps to help you on your journey.

Breaking the Cycle of Self-Criticism

Self-criticism has become such a habit for many of us that we don't even realize we're doing it. But by becoming aware of when you engage in self-criticism and making a conscious effort to shift towards self-compassion, you can change your inner dialogue and improve your mental health.

It's natural to believe that self-criticism helps us learn from our mistakes and avoid repeating them in the future. However, this constant self-criticism can lead to a negative self-image and rob us of our confidence. Instead, we need to find a more effective and healthier way to learn and grow.

Enter self-compassion. <hl>By speaking to yourself with kindness, understanding, and respect, you can achieve the same results as self-criticism<hl> but without the harmful side effects. Here are three steps to help you train your self-compassion.

Step 1:

Acknowledge and Appreciate Your Self-Critic

The first step in transforming self-criticism into self-compassion is to recognize when it's happening. Pay attention to your inner dialogue and make a note of any negative or self-critical thoughts.

Once you've identified the self-critic, it's time to change your relationship with it. Instead of fighting back or trying to silence it, <hl>thank your self-critic for its good intentions<hl>. Remind yourself that this inner voice is only trying to help you avoid making the same mistakes in the future. So, the next time you hear your self-critic speaking up, simply say "thank you for the good intention." By doing this, you can start to shift the focus from criticism to gratitude.

Step 2:

Embrace Empathy and Become Your Own Best Friend

It's time to ditch the harsh self-criticism and embrace empathy. By acknowledging that everyone makes mistakes, you can shift your inner dialogue from criticism to compassion. The idea is to treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer your best friend.

Think about it - if your best friend came to you upset about making a mistake, you wouldn't berate them. You'd offer words of comfort, understanding and support. The same should hold true for yourself.

Next time you find yourself harshly criticizing yourself, imagine that you're talking to a dear friend instead. Use kind, supportive words and offer yourself the same empathy and understanding that you would offer to someone you love. By becoming your own best friend, you can cultivate self-compassion and break free from the cycle of negative self-talk.

Step 3:

Cultivate Gratitude and Positivity

It's natural to focus on the negative because our ancestors needed to be aware of danger, but we can train ourselves to cultivate positivity. Research shows that people who regularly reflect on what they are grateful for have a higher quality of life.

One simple tool to help you focus on the positive is a gratitude journal. Simply write down three things you are grateful for each day, both big and small. It could be anything from your health to a colleague complimenting your new shirt. Writing it down brings positivity to the forefront of your mind and reminds you that there is always something to be thankful for, even on the toughest days.

Start small and make this a daily practice, and you'll soon see the benefits of a kinder, more positive self-talk.

Practice makes perfect

To start, remind yourself of the good intentions behind your self-criticism. Then, turn that criticism into compassion by speaking to yourself as you would to your best friend. Finally, make it a habit to focus on the positive things in your life by writing down what you're grateful for in a gratitude journal. With time and practice, self-compassion will become second nature, and your journey from self-criticism to self-compassion will be complete.

In conclusion, self-criticism can be damaging, both to our self-esteem and to our mental health. By practicing self-compassion, we can change the way we talk to ourselves, and in turn, improve our overall well-being. Remember, practice makes perfect, so be patient and kind to yourself along the way.


Allen, S. (2018): The Science of Gratitude. Greater Good Science Center.  

Gilbert, P. (2018). Compassionfokuseret terapi. Dansk Psykologisk Forlag A/S.

Gilbert, P. (2009). Introducing compassion-focused therapy. Advances in psychiatric treatment. vol. 15, 199–208 doi:10.1192/apt.bp.107.005264

Gitz-Johansen, A. (2022). Styrk dit selvværd: Bliv ven med din indre kritiker. Psykologer i Danmark:

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