‘Be kind’ was one of the first messages or lessons taught to me growing up.
In fact, it was and remains one of the most important values taught to me as a small child.
When reflecting on my childhood, both at home and school, all around me were messages relating to the importance of being kind. I am guessing that is much the same for you.
So, if you, like me became aware of how important it is to be kind to others and how being unkind to someone would cause them a lot of pain, you are also hopefully, very skilled at ways of being kind…to others.
What about us?
But what we often did not get told was how to be kind to ourselves or why it even matters. Without this lesson, or insight, out of our awareness there is a leaning to be self- critical and mean, without realising the impact this has on our mood and general well-being.
“Remember, you have been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” Louise L Hay
Why being self-critical is kindness in another way
We are so often drawn to explain our behaviour through the lenses of our personal histories, which can all too often lead to a loop of more criticism and not be helpful. When we are able to understand that, because our reptilian brain is wired to pay attention to threat, coupled with the fact we probably needed that more than kindness in the cave, we are still bound to pay more attention to what could harm us. Therefore, what we experience as a threat because of the emotional responses to past experiences, can get filed away in our amygdala in case met again, i.e. making a mistake in class, being laughed at and then feeling deep shame, so making a mistake becomes a remembered threat, in much the same way as a tiger. I then keep have to myself safe, by avoiding anything that could incur a mistake. So, the intention of the criticism is about being kind as it is supposed to keep us safe.
The big design glitch
The kindness of the criticism fails to work because the threat system that is activated has been designed to protect us against a physical threat… not a threat to our self and identity.
What’s the impact then?
We know that the being critical of others can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, depression, poor performance at work and have a profoundly negative impact on our health and well-being … being self-critical has the same effect.
What can we do?
Conversely, practising self-kindness leads to us feeling happier, being healthier, having great relationships, feeling safer and connected and when we respond to our mistakes and failures with kindness, we acknowledge them quicker, learn from them and move on with more resilience.
Most people I know would not put up with someone being so unkind them and would certainly not talk to someone else that way.
So, why do it to yourself? Often, it’s because you aren’t aware of it.
Most of my clients, until they come and work with me, have little awareness of how they are talking to themselves let alone the effect it is having on their mood and behaviours.
The first step is therefore becoming more mindful and self-aware.
Remember that one of the ways we learnt to be kind to others when we were little, was to have it pointed out to us when we weren’t; when the other person looked sad or began to cry we became aware of the feedback we got and changed our behaviour.
In many ways, learning to do this for yourself is a simple route to practicing a kinder and more compassionate way of being.
How to be kinder to yourself today
My invitation to you just for today is to:
1. Pay attention to how you are talking to yourself, are you being kind or critical and mean?
2. How are you feeling?
3. Pause and if you notice you are being critical and mean, ask yourself “would I talk to someone I loved in this way”?
4. If you know you wouldn’t, then take a moment and talk to yourself in the same voice, tone and volume you would to someone you loved and were being kind to.
5. Do this at very regular intervals throughout the day and notice how you feel when you are being kinder to yourself.
Often, I am told that one of the reasons for being self-critical is to improve performance, behaviour and achieve goals… and I would ask you to imagine what it would be like, when you know it is possible to motivate yourself with kindness instead…. just a thought.
About the author: Helen Golstein
‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’
The Positive Psychology People is co-founded and sponsored
by Lesley Lyle and Dan Collinson,
Directors of Positive Psychology Learning and authors of the
8-week online Happiness Course