I used to think that kindness was about being nice, giving before receiving, and exuding positivity. As I started to learn more about myself and explore what that word really meant to me, I discovered that the real meaning of kindness was quite different.
Many of us make an effort to be kind to the people we love, but we rarely extend that same effort to our relationship with ourselves. When I started working on my self-relationship, I didn’t even know where to start. It took a few years of fumbling, stumbling, and experimenting until I could identify what, for me, are the five foundations of self-kindness:
1. Acknowledge and accept reality
Being 100% honest with ourselves is a natural state of being, but one that we’re trained out of at a very young age. This article is just one example of how our culture bombards us with people-pleasing propaganda. As kids, we need people to survive, so we conform and push down our true experiences.
If you want to be kind to yourself, reality is the place to start. Self-kindness isn’t about putting on rose-tinted glasses and pretending that everything is fine. It starts with being real, calling a spade a spade, and accepting reality. Sometimes reality is not very nice, but it’s far kinder to yourself to admit this than to maintain the pretension that the spade is actually a bushel of diamond-encrusted roses.
Start paying attention to your genuine experiences of people and situations. More often than not, your genuine experiences won’t jibe with how you think you should feel, or what society says you should think. And that’s totally fine.
If accepting reality means acknowledging that your parents aren’t as loving and supportive as your family’s story says they are, fine. If it means accepting that your best friend doesn’t actually have many of the qualities that are important to you in a friendship, so be it. If it means accepting that, if you’re being 100% honest, you have doubts about your relationship with your boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, or spouse, that’s OK. If it means acknowledging that you have a mean streak, experience jealousy, that you want to maintain a facade in front of people, or feel you need to be in control in all your relationships, kudos for facing the truth head on.
Acknowledging and accepting your genuine experience of the world is a mark of basic self-respect. (tweet this)
When you start acknowledging reality, it’s tempting to want to rush in and change all the things that feel uncomfortable and incongruous. This isn’t the time to do that (yet). Rather than getting tied up in knots judging yourself or other people, practice acknowledging and accepting things as they really are in your world.
2. Pay attention to your internal language
Most of us are far meaner, negative, and critical towards ourselves than we would be towards anyone else. Yet, while other people come and go, we’re the ones that we spend our whole lives with. Backwards, right?
One of the major ways that self-kindness is present or absent in our lives is through our self-dialogue (i.e. the voices in our heads). Start to listen to your thoughts and pay particular attention to the language you use towards yourself. Red flag language to watch out for includes:
- Shoulds: “I should do ABC”, “I should have done XYZ”, “I should be more ____”, “I should be less ____”. The fact you aren’t, haven’t, aren’t, and aren’t means you’re talking to yourself in a way that is out of touch with reality (see 1. Acknowledge and accept reality).
- “When I ___, then I’ll be happy.”
- Scarcity-based language: “I’m not ___ enough”
- Talking yourself out of opportunities
- Comparing yourself to other people as a way of beating yourself up rather than inspiring yourself
- Using absolutes: “I never get it right”, “I always screw up”, “No one will like me”, “Everyone will think I’m an idiot”.
3. Learn how to spend time with yourself
Growing up in a somewhat chaotic environment, spending time with myself was one of my favourite things to do as a kid. This has continued as an adult, and I know it’s benefitted my relationship with myself. I also know plenty of people who don’t do this, and it means they make unhelpful decisions in other areas of their lives. Some of them stay in crappy relationships because they don’t want to be alone, others fill their calendars to the brim and over-commit to work, activities, and social gatherings, while others spend all their solo time zoning out in front of the TV.
I’ll repeat what I wrote above: other people come and go, but we’re the ones we spend our whole lives with. This means our self-relationship is the most important relationship to nurture. Not our relationship with our significant other, not our relationships with our friends, our relationships with work colleagues, or any other relationships—our relationship with ourselves is the priority.
Meditate, journal, be. Take yourself out for a walk, put away your phone, turn off your music, and learn how to spend distraction-free time with yourself.
4. Learn more about yourself
If you want to be kind to yourself, you need to learn what being kind to yourself looks like and represents to you.
Journal (and—plug alert!—take my upcoming course on how to use journaling to develop a deeper relationship with yourself). Expose your self-limiting beliefs, explore the situations that created them, and reconnect with your authentic self. Take a Myers-Briggs test and find out more about your personality and what it means for how you interact with the world. Learn more about your strengths and the gifts that you offer. Uncover your values and start making decisions in a way that is aligned with what’s important to you. Go to therapy. Engage in coaching.
Invest in your relationship with yourself, and invest in what brings you joy.
5. Surround yourself with kind people
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn
Whether or not this is true, it’s undeniable that the people around us have a huge impact on our relationship with ourselves, our level of authenticity, the decisions we make in life, and, over time, our self-kindness. Many people are worried about distancing themselves from partners, friends or family members who bring them down, try to keep them small, or disrespect the relationship. They don’t want to be mean, cold, hurtful, or cause drama. I know from experience that if you do distance yourself from toxic or draining relationships, many people will accuse you of being these things, and that feels painful.
But it’s worth it.
Having standards is not a crime. If you want to be truly happy, you’re far more likely to feel fulfilled and satisfied with your life if you hold your inner circle to high standards than if you practice flexing your forgiveness muscle every time one of them brings you down, screws you over, or acts out towards you.
Tips from the Community
“Validate your emotions and feelings, recognizing them and determining their source. (This is instead of stuffing them and ignoring them only for them to rear their ugly heads later through illness, etc.)” – Dawn Herring
“In moments of confusion and despair I remember how I would treat my best friend. What would I tell her to do? Tell her to call a friend or take a bath or give her a hug. And then I do that for me.” – Victoria Sejda
“Practice a “Daily Sweet Something” where you say (at least) one thing you like about yourself every morning. Then, repeat it throughout the day.” – Stephanie Hall
Don’t forget this is the last week to register for Journaling with Heart. This 4-week group course will teach you how to gain greater confidence, self-awareness, and authenticity through journaling. Click here to learn more and register.