Kindness

How to start being kind to yourself

This is my recent column in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…

We all have times when we could be a little kinder to ourselves. But how, if you’re someone who has a very loud or mean “self-critic”, do you actually do that?

To some extent, we all have that voice inside us, that can give us a hard time, whisper mean things, bring us down if we dare to feel too good. And of course, for some that voice is so overwhelming, it grinds their life to a halt and can make feeling good, feel impossible.

The truth is you can’t just turn that off, you can’t just decide to be nice to yourself, because like so many things in life that voice – and the things we say to ourselves – is a habit, often one built up over many years.

Sadly for some of us, it’s the result of many years of abuse, bullying and put downs, that we have come to believe as true.

And of course, to try to be kind to ourselves, when we truly deeply feel we don’t deserve it, is not much use if at the same time we are ridiculing ourselves for doing it.

There’s an old piece of advice in Alcoholics Anonymous. Actually, there’s a ton of it, but this one in particular always stuck in my mind. The advice is to not start a new relationship as soon you get sober. Start with a plant, the advice goes, and if you manage to keep that alive, then, and only then, get a pet. If that goes well, consider a partner.

It’s good advice for many reasons, but it also shows how it can be easier to be kind to someone – or something – else, than ourselves.

I’ve always been a cat person, and I have to admit, that’s in part because they’re pretty easy to ignore if you feel you need to. Dogs are in many ways harder work. But both in their own way teach us the value of kindness. Indeed, they demand kindness, love and our care.

Kindness and compassion are skills like anything else, but if the self-critic is too strong, too ingrained – most often because of past hurts and trauma – then we need to start slow. Practice kindness and generosity towards others, and pets are perfect because they will mostly soak up as much as you have to give.

And they won’t hurt you, in the same way humans can.

So if you recognise that you struggle to be kind to yourself, if you know that being compassionate to yourself is an uphill battle, find someone or something to take care of.

Plant a vegetable garden, buy some household plants, a succulent collection, or a pet.

Start small, if it’s really hard, but make sure you start and allow yourself to care, and allow others to care about you.

Over time you might even find yourself caring about you too.

If you enjoyed this article please make sure you click here to view the the original article in the NZ Herald.  The Herald measures the popularity of columns based on how many people view them.  So by viewing the orginal article you’ll be telling the Herald you like my column!

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