I like to believe that there is plenty of kindness in the world.
I know that it may not always seem this way, but I believe that deep-down most people are inherently kind. That they understand the impact their words and actions have, and that, at least in the majority of times, act in a way that is empathetic, caring and considerate of others.
I believe you are one of these lovely kind people.
And I’d like to ask you a question…
Are you as kind to yourself as you are to others?
Do you speak to yourself with kindness?
Do you take care of yourself?
Are you considerate of yourself and your needs?
In other words, do you practice self-kindness?
What is self-kindness?
Essentially self-kindness means you are gentle and understanding of yourself, rather than harshly critical or judgemental.
While many of us are kind to our friends, our family, our neighbours and strangers, we find it more challenging to be kind to ourselves.
Self-kindness is one of the three essential elements of self-compassion (along with common humanity, and mindfulness).
Dr Kristen Neff, a world expert and pioneer in the field of self-compassion explores this in detail in her excellent book Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind.
Self-kindness, by definition, means that we stop the constant self-judgement and disparaging internal commentary that most of us have come to see as normal.Dr Kristen Neff, Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind
Self-kindness goes beyond just stopping self-judgement – it also means actively comforting ourselves when we need it, just as we would comfort a friend.
It means acknowledging when something is difficult, or you are feeling emotional pain, and asking ourselves how we can support and comfort ourselves in that moment.
It’s about providing ourselves with warmth, gentleness, and sympathy to support healing.
Why should we practice self-kindness?
Practicing self-kindness has very real effects on both our body and our mind.
Self-kindness taps into our hardwired caregiving system and has a positive effect on our wellbeing through the release of oxytocin, the love hormone.
In contrast, the opposite of self-kindness, self-criticism, can have a very different effect on our body.
Self-criticism is perceived by our body as a threat, which in turn triggers the fight-or-flight response. This increases blood pressure, adrenaline, and production of the stress hormone cortisol.
Over time increased levels of cortisol can lead to headaches, fatigue, and digestion issues, as well as increased feelings of anxiety and depression.
We all have perceived limitations, and have all experienced feelings of disappointment in ourselves. But rather than condemning our failures or foibles, self-kindness means we seek to understand them.
Acting with self-kindness gives us back control.
We may not be able to control past or present circumstances, or the way other people think or act, but we can control how we respond, and how we speak to ourselves about these events.
When we experience warm and tender feelings towards ourselves, we are altering our bodies as well as our minds. Rather than feeling worried and anxious, we feel calm, content, trusting and secure.Dr Kristen Neff, Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind
People who are kind to themselves find it easier to achieve their goals. When faced with obstacles or setbacks they don’t use self-criticism as a form of motivation (which only serves to encourage procrastination, feelings of inadequacy, and stress).
Instead, research shows that people who practice self-kindness are more likely to get back on track, and feel more motivated to do better next time.
How to practice self-kindness
As humans, we are hardwired to both give and receive care. However, we don’t need to rely on others to feel worthy of this care.
When we consistently give ourselves nurturance and understanding, we also come to feel worthy of care and acceptance.Dr Kristen Neff, Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind.
To embrace self-kindness recognise that perfection doesn’t exist, and that it is normal, and inevitable, to experience difficulties in life.
Next time you experience stress, frustration, or failure, rather than beating yourself up about your failures or perceived shortcomings, acknowledge that now is the time for care, support, and nurturing. No one is better placed to give you that than yourself.
Here’s how you can be kinder to yourself:
- talk to yourself with kindness rather than harshness – the same way you would talk to a good friend
- give yourself encouragement, understanding, empathy, and patience
- seek to understand your quirks and shortcomings rather than criticize them
Kindness isn’t finite. It doesn’t run out.
Treating yourself with kindness doesn’t mean there’ll be less for others. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – there’ll be more.
Kindness can change the world, but it can also change you.
Here’s how you can learn more
Dr Kristin Neff’s book Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind is a wonderful resource.
It’s an easy and engaging read, with practical examples, downloads, and actionable exercises to help you develop self-compassion and become happier and healthier.
You’ll also find lots of great resources on Dr Kristin Neff’s website self-compassion.org