How to silence your inner critic? A journey to self-compassion.

Travelling was the only way for 31-year-old sustainability expert and yoga teacher Sophie Gripenberg to distract herself from self-critical thoughts. Today, she has learned how to be kinder to herself, and will continue her self-compassion journey by taking a 29k course.

By Alina Weckström
April, 15 / 2021

Most people are nicer to others than they are to themselves, according to self-compassion expert Dr. Kristen Neff. Sustainability expert and yoga teacher Sophie Gripenberg, 31, was one in the majority. Travelling was the only way she could distract herself from self-critical thoughts. Today, she has learned how to be kinder to herself, and will continue her self-compassion journey by taking a 29k course.
Through the lens of social media, Sophie Gripenberg has lived the backpacker's dream. By twenty-one, she had been around the world. But what we don't see from Sophie's Instagram is the inner turmoil that had been building up, reaching a boiling point at twenty-six.

On a Sunday in February 2016, Sophie woke with a headache. She was hungover and felt ashamed for having lashed out at a friend the night before. This was the evidence her mind needed to keep telling her she was bad. Desperate to get out of her apartment, she went for a walk. She eventually sat by the Western bridge between Kungsholmen and Södermalm and thought 'What if I jumped? Would I die from the collision or simply drown?'

– It wasn't that I was sick and tired of living, just of feeling that bad about myself. The only reason I didn't give up was because I felt guilty thinking about how it would impact my parents and siblings, she says.

The suicidal thoughts subsided. She then tried to recall the last time she had felt truly happy. She thought of the time she hitchhiked with strangers through South East Asia. During that trip, she had felt accepted and welcomed by the people she met. So without a second thought, she booked the next flight to Thailand.
"It wasn't that I was sick and tired of living, just of feeling that bad about myself. The only reason I didn't give up was because I felt guilty thinking about how it would impact my parents and siblings"
Sophie had returned from a year-long solo trip to South East Asia in the autumn of 2015. She then moved to Stockholm to start a master's degree in Socio-Ecological Resilience for Sustainable Development. It was her first time living in her hometown since high school. At first, she felt excited to start living her single life. She was passionate about her studies and felt good about having had the courage to end a destructive relationship. But she also still felt guilty about how the stress had impacted her friendships before leaving for Asia.

As the weeks passed, she noticed training and socialising, activities which usually gave her joy, didn't uplift her in the same way. She needed to talk about what she had been through, and although she liked her classmates, she didn't feel comfortable enough to confide in them. She was alone with her negative thoughts. Her back pains increased. Sophie had experienced ups and downs before, and would usually bounce back after a couple of days. This time, she didn't.

– I stopped feeling the music I was listening to. Food lost its taste. I just felt numb, and nothing helped, she says.

Since she was in the middle of writing her master's thesis, her father helped make the necessary arrangements so she could take sick leave from university and go on her trip. He took the password to her email and informed her professors. As soon as she landed in Bangkok, she felt the pressure ease. She met with her local friend, Pap. He noticed she didn't look happy. He asked her what was weighing her down.

– When I told him that I felt like a bad person he just smiled and laughed. The fact that he was so easy-going about it helped me put my problems in perspective, she says.

One day Pap took her to a Buddhist temple in central Bangkok. He encouraged her to sit down and meditate. She took his advice reluctantly and sat down on the stone floor. She had meditated before, but since her downward spiral, it had become impossible to find stillness. The temple was held up with pillars. In the garden in front of her stood a giant Buddha. Monks were reading or talking quietly amongst themselves.

She closed her eyes. Her mind drifted back to the conflict she had had with her friend the night before she thought about ending her life. She felt the anger that had been directed towards her. Then came a simple but important realisation. She realised the person who expressed hate towards her was also suffering. She thought, what good is it if she hates the person back? This will only amplify the negativity.
"When I told him that I felt like a bad person he just smiled and laughed. The fact that he was so easy-going about it helped me put my problems in perspective"
Understanding her friend was also suffering gave space for compassion and forgiveness towards the other person and herself. She felt a brutal inner cycle end. When she told Pap about what had happened, he said "Eureka!", a word Sophie has had tattooed to remind her what she learned that day.

After two weeks in Thailand, she returned home. She knew she would never achieve a sustained wellbeing if she kept running away from home whenever faced with personal challenges. She was ready to begin working through them.

– My sense of security came from being in constant movement, but it's easy to be happy abroad. I needed to work on being happy at home, she says.

Back in Stockholm, she moved in with her mother, had acupuncture for her physical pains and started seeing a psychologist to figure out why she felt miserable at home.

— As the oldest of four siblings and a child of divorce, I took on a lot of responsibility from an young age. When travelling, I was able to focus on myself without feeling guilty for not doing more for others, she says.

While Sophie worked to understand what led to her depression, she gradually found emotional stability. She took a full-time job for the Red Cross as their Sustainability Coordinator.
"As the oldest of four sisters and a child of divorce, I took on a lot of responsibility from a young age. When travelling, I was able to focus on myself without feeling guilty for not doing more for others"
A year later, she was out eating with friends in Stockholm. She noticed a man sitting at the table next to her. She went over to him and complimented his clothing style. They exchanged numbers and started dating. This time the relationship felt different. He was stable and grounded, with a positive outlook. He didn't tell her how to live her life. When Sophie felt unsure if it would last, he asked her "What if things turned out great?"

His optimism helped her find a new perspective on relationships, but it was the emotional groundwork she had done the year before that had changed the course of her life and set her up for a healthier relationship to herself and others. She had learned to enjoy spending time alone, set clear boundaries and prioritise her own well being before trying to fix the world.

– When I stayed in one place, I reclaimed my relationship to myself. I got to know myself on a deeper level and fell in love with the new version of me that took shape after hitting rock bottom, she says.
"When I stayed in one place, I reclaimed my relationship with myself. I got to know myself on a deeper level and fell in love with the new version of me that took shape after hitting rock bottom"
Sophie Gripenberg:

Age: 31

Lives in: Stockholm, Södermalm

Family: Fiancé, mother, father, two grandmothers and three siblings

Does: former Sustainability Coordinator at the Swedish Red Cross, now looking for a new job within sustainable development. Founder of the fashion platform A Sustainable Closet, certified Hatha yoga teacher and communicator and blogger in sustainable development and lifestyle

In her free time: painting, history, yoga and meditation, a Hybrid form of martial arts called Krav Maga, outdoor activities such as cold water swimming, Krav Maga, climbing and Beach Volleyball. She is currently writing a book about her experiences with overcoming depression.

What are you currently reading?
Ikigai - the Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Frances Miralles

Favourite saying?
Changes, but at the moment "Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy"? From my stepmother who is my best friend and guru! She's the closest to an enlightened human being I ever met.

Sophie's website: https://www.sophiegripenberg.com/

A Sustainable Closet platform:
https://www.asustainablecloset.com/

Instagram: @sophiegripenberg
APRIL, 15 / 2021
Contributing author: Alina Weckström

Alina Weckström is a Stockholm-based Finland Swedish freelance journalist focusing on entertainment, non-profits, business and health. She has written for publications such as Aftonbladet Söndag and has studied English literature and music production.

29k has developed a seven-week free online course to give you tools to cultivate self-compassion on a daily basis, wherever you are. You have the capacity within you to take control of your own wellbeing, on your own terms. The course helps you discover the inner resources you already have and build a supportive community around you committed to inner growth.
Highlighted course:
Self-compassion with Yoga Girl