“You’re an idiot.” “You’re ugly.” “You’re fat.” “You’re such a loser.” “You can’t do anything right.” “You’re not good enough.” “Why would anyone ever care about someone like you?”
These are things we most likely would never dare to say to another person. Yet they’re abusive judgments we dole out readily and often to ourselves. We can find it quite easy to be kind to others, but not to ourselves. We emotionally beat ourselves to a pulp, while treating others with kindness and respect. You deserve to learn how to tune out that nasty inner critic and reap the benefits of being much kinder to yourself and more self-compassionate.
You may harbor the misconception that being kind to yourself is a sign of weakness, selfishness, or that you’re being too easy on yourself. Yet it’s a self-taught coping strategy that has been proven to relieve anxiety, and improve hardiness and the ability to bounce back from stress. We face our own emotional turmoil and then very intentionally soothe ourselves by producing feelings of love and understanding toward ourselves. As the Bible says in Proverbs 19:8, “He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul: he that keepeth understanding shall find good.”
According to author and educator, Rosie Molinary, being kind to yourself is the exact opposite of weakness. “When we embrace self-kindness, we want to offer ourselves better care,” she stated to PsychCentral. “We get more sleep, offer our body more of the nutrients that it needs, wean some or most of our bad habits. When we lose our urgent need to denigrate and belittle ourselves, we open ourselves up to a more expansive way to experience life.”
She also said we need to treat ourselves with the same kindness that we unhesitatingly extend to others, yet stubbornly withhold from ourselves. “Self-kindness is taking all those actions, all those reactions, and applying them to yourself just as readily as you offer them to others,” Molinary explains. “It’s about acknowledging the difficulty of a situation, recognizing your efforts, and soothing yourself.”
At the very least, self-kindness means providing yourself with the barest of essentials. These include nurturing yourself with food that you enjoy, exercising, embracing nature, and getting adequate rest and sleep. According to life coach Mara Glatzel, MSW, “Taking care of these needs allows me to bring energy and light to my life.”
Self-kindness, however, is not identical to self-esteem. Dr. Kristin Neff from the University of Texas at Austin asserts that while high self-esteem is based upon achievements, self-kindness is spawned by valuing ourselves and treating ourselves with compassion simply because we are human. It negates the compulsion to be better than others and to compete with them. Instead, Neff maintains that self-compassion promotes emotional healing, general wellbeing and more fulfilling relationships.
A vital key to being kind to yourself is to monitor your inner self-talk. Pay attention to what you say to yourself, as well as how you say it, reframing it into an inner dialogue that’s positive, supportive and compassionate. You’ll probably be surprised at the number of times you catch yourself beating yourself up emotionally. Initially, this process of observing and self-correcting may feel phony or uncomfortable, but don’t give up until it’s automatic.
“You are learning a new language here,” says Molinary, “and practicing will help you become fluent.” Or, as the Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Talk to yourself the way you’d talk to a close friend. Or the way you’d talk to a child who needed comforting. This way, you can thwart your abusive, perfectionistic inner critic. You can even gently stroke your own arm, hold your own hand or even hug yourself the way a caring friend would. You’ll feel safer, more of a sense of wellbeing, as well as more self-love.
Remember, you’re aiming for progress, not perfection. If you set the bar lower and thus place less pressure on yourself, you’ll find that your performance in everything you do will rise. You’ll also have more time and energy to devote to the small but significant things in life such as the food you’re eating, the weather, the scent of flowers – even the way sunlight seems to sparkle on the leaves of a tree.
You’ve heard the saying that laughter is the best medicine, and you can use it to be kind to yourself. Take time during your day – maybe 20 or 30 minutes – for a laughter break. Watch a sitcom or stand-up comic on TV, read a humorous book or listen to a radio program that makes you chuckle. When you extend to yourself the kindness of laughter, you can effectively reboot your energy level, increase your optimism and diffuse stress.
When you’re kind to yourself, you reap many benefits. You’re less stressed in situations such as a job interview, where someone is evaluating you. Self-compassion, rather than self-esteem, is responsible for higher and more regular amounts of well-being.
When we don’t evaluate ourselves based solely upon achievement, we tend to relax and enjoy and appreciate our lives more. We’re not constantly beating ourselves up for failure, or for not fulfilling the pressure of putting lofty expectations upon ourselves. When we make mistakes, we don’t chastise ourselves, but accept them as a natural part of growth and learning – a mistake doesn’t get blown out of proportion as the end of the world, or as something to be horribly ashamed of.
It’s kind to accept yourself exactly as you are right now. Force won’t bring about change; in fact, it will undermine it. Change is created by unconditional self-love. That translates to loving yourself right now, exactly as you are. So right now it’s okay if you’re overeating, struggling in your business, ignoring what your body is trying to tell you, if you’re falling behind in your to-do list, and a myriad of other things. You can be kind to yourself by saying something like, “I’ll never get everything done that I’d planned to do today, and that’s okay.”
For many people, a challenge equals failure. They see situations as either black or white – they’re failing miserably or succeeding outstandingly. They believe that anything short of perfection makes them worthless. According to Molinary, however, since perfection doesn’t actually exist, neither does imperfection. She suggests that you recast challenges as information, which is neutral.
“By neutralizing what we feel so negatively about,” she says, “we can increase our capacity for self-kindness. When we run into a challenge, we are not learning that we suck at something. We are actually learning that a particular task is lower on our list of talents than some other things.”
Lowering your expectations of yourself, and reducing your list of self-imposed “shoulds” is an act of kindness toward yourself. This is particularly true when you’re facing situations that could possibly be stressful or overwhelming, such as holidays or a work meeting.
Viewed from this new perspective, you won’t bog yourself down with unrealistic expectations. Glatzel says that when we lower our expectations, this “allows us an increased chance of being able to tolerate experiences that don’t turn out the way that we’d like or think they should.”
The only “should” in your life is to strive to be as kind to yourself as you would be toward others. And then everything else will fall much more easily into place. Have you hugged yourself today? What do you do to be kind to yourself?