How do you treat you?
Self-kindness is a recurrent topic with clients.
Many of us will sadly be far more familiar with self-deprecation, self-judgement and even self-hatred than acts of self-kindness.
Some of you might think that being hard on ourselves is the way to go, that being self-critical keeps us up to the mark, stops us from being lazy and selfish, and helps us to improve?
Indeed self-kindness is often perceived as weak and self-indulgent; a myth I want to now dispel (and there’s a growing body of research to support me). Kindness to self is the source of happiness, positive emotion, well-being, resilience.
What would it mean to be your own best friend?
Self-judgement and treating ourselves harshly is often an ingrained habit, something that we are not aware of but that determines our thinking, behaviour and day-to-day experience of ourselves and life. When we listen to our inner critic we hear a harsh voice saying things like: ‘I’m so stupid’ or ‘I can’t do it’, ‘I’m such a failure – what will people think of me?’ or ‘Others have what it takes but not me’ etc.’ When we’re in the grip of our inner critic we often feel low, sad and depressed.
What would it mean to be our own best friend? It would mean encouraging and caring for ourselves as we would for a close friend. Where this sounds easy in theory, developing a more caring attitude towards ourselves can actually be quite challenging because we often treat ourselves in ways that we would not dare to treat others – particularly our close friends, and we regularly find ourselves at the mercy of our ‘inner critic’.
Self-kindness can be life-changing
Sounds dramatic, but practicing self-kindness has literally changed my life.
I come from a very judgemental family. I can still see it in my mother today. When I visit she goes on and on about all the things other people say and do that she doesn’t like. She is also prone to judge herself. It’s painful to witness because it’s draining; negative for her and those around her. This is how I used to be. It creates such a disconnection with others. I found it excruciating when I discovered how judgemental I could be of others and of myself.
But this was the old me. And change starts with ourselves.
We can change habits of thinking, behaving, feeling, and when we do, life becomes more meaningful, rich, satisfying. Practicing self- kindness has filled ‘my tank’ with positive emotion – enough for me and many more besides. Today, I experience very few moments of feeling low, insecure, sad, hopeless or guilty.
Research shows that people who practice kindness, friendliness, respect, appreciation towards self and all living beings, were better able to acknowledge their mistakes, imperfections and negative actions, to learn from them and to change for the better, than those who hadn’t done so. This is because having a positive attitude towards themselves allowed them to admit to their failings without being overwhelmed by negative emotions.
Self-kindness, rather than making us weak and self-indulgent, makes us more emotionally robust and positive.
When someone criticises us, we experience the criticism as a threat even if it’s meant to be helpful. Similarly, if we are habitually self-critical then we are constantly activating the emotions of fear, anxiety, insecurity, low self-esteem and anger (directed to ourselves) and perhaps self-disgust. These emotions don’t help us to be well and do the things we want to in our life, they just make us feel bad, guilty, unhappy and depressed.
Here is how you can practice self-kindness:
Listen to your inner harsh voice and turn it into a loving, respectful, friendly, kind voice – the same tone of voice you would use when speaking to a friend or loved one.
Notice ingrained views you hold of yourself such as: ‘I am not good enough’, ‘I’m stupid’, ‘I will never be able to do that’, ‘It’s not for me’, ‘It’s for others’, ‘I am such a failure…’ These are only views but if you buy into them and hold them as absolute truth they rule your life.
If you make a mistake, acknowledge the mistake, acknowledge that you are human and imperfect, that mistakes can happen to anyone. Ask yourself: What has happened here? What can I do differently next time?
Every day, at the end of the day, review your day and focus on the things that you are proud of, that have gone well and learn from the things that haven’t gone so well.
Notice when you judge others. We don’t have to like everyone but we can respect everyone and remember that they too are imperfect, that they too struggle and want to be well and happy.
Also, see my new resource sheets, one of which is about practicing self-kindness in three steps.
Watch out for my September blog on “How practicing kindness changes our brain”.
As always, I’d love to hear how you are getting on. I have created a useful resource on practicing self-kindness in three steps. Let me know what you think. And if you need a little help, why not book a free initial coaching discovery session in beautiful Victoria Park, east London, or via phone or video call.
With warm wishes,