Are You Falling for These Self-kindness Myths?


Self-kindness gets a bad rep, often because when people think of it, they also think of one of the many self-kindness myths that abound in society (for example, that self-kindness is self-indulgence; more on this below).Before we move on, lets start with that word: Kindness.What does it really mean?1. having or showing a friendly, generous, and considerate nature2. affectionate; loving('s the version of kindness we show others, yet it's rarely the way we treat ourselves. We live in a world full of contradictory messages, not least around how we're expected to behave towards other people versus how we're conditioned to behave towards ourselves.As we move through the world, we encounter many mixed messages and self-kindness myths. Most of these myths are socially acceptable and can be hard to refute. That's why I want to unpack and explore three of these myths today.At its core, self-kindness is beneficial to our world and everyone in it, yet very few people talk about self-kindness openly. It seems to be viewed as something that's nice—if you have the luxury—if not a little hippy-ish and quirky to talk about openly. That's the kind of environment where these myths flourish, so let's bust them open, right here, right now.

1. Self-kindness is self-indulgence

Self-kindness and self-indulgence* are very different guests at the party. In brief, one leads to growth and the other leads to stagnation. The reason we often confuse self-kindness and self-indulgence is that they can look the same on any given day. What counts as self-indulgence in one situation might actually be self-kindness in the other.As Lynda Monk put it in the guest interview I'm sharing with participants of From Coping to Thriving, sometimes sitting down with a bowl of ice-cream might count as self-care; we just don't want to pitch our tent there and have that become our go-to response to external circumstances.And that's the main difference for me: self-kindness is about compassion in the face of reality, while self-indulgence is about coping. Self-kindness is an emotionally mature, growth-orientated way of responding to a situation, self-indulgence is about hiding, repressing, muffling and pity parties.*Here, I'm talking about the kind of self-indulgence that leads to disregard for our other needs and preferences—for example, feeling stressed in the short-term and going on a spending spree when you really want to pay off that debt that's been stressing you out in the long-term, or chowing down on that double-decker chocolate something when you previously made a commitment to take better care of yourself. 

2. Self-kindness is self-centred

Technically, this is true if you take the word "self-centred" to literally mean centred on our selves—i.e. self-aware, in touch with our needs, and grounded in authenticity.Rarely, however, does someone call us "self-centred" and mean it as a compliment.So let's look at that other definition of self-centred: focused solely on ourselves at the expense of others' feelings, lacking empathy, even slightly narcissistic.Here's the counter-intuitive thing: if you spend any amount of time around people who behave in a way that fits this definition of self-centred, what you'll notice is that they are not kind to themselves. At all. That's why it's all about them: they're seeking validation from the outside to make up for what's missing on the inside.Their apparent sense of entitlement might make it seem like they actually think they are the bee's knees, but it's actually the opposite. People who behave in a way that is conventionally "self-centred" are usually seeking to make up for the lack of self-kindness they experience internally.

3. I need to be hard on myself to keep myself in check. Otherwise, how will I get anything done?

I've saved the most challenging for last: this is the argument I hear against self-kindness most frequently. Every time I do, it reminds me of Aesop's fable about the sun and the wind.In this fable, the Wind and the Sun are having a disagreement about who is the strongest. They see a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun decides that this guy will become the unknowing guinea pig they'll use to settle their argument: whoever can get the traveller to take his cloak off is the strongest. So the Sun hides behind a cloud and the Wind begins to blow as hard as it can upon the traveller. But the harder he blows, the tighter the traveller wraps his cloak around him, until the Wind is all blown out and gives up. The Sun, on the other hand, takes a different approach. He comes out, shines his brightest, and beams down on the traveller, who soon starts finds it too hot to walk with his cloak on and removes it (all the while wondering what is up with the crazy-assed weather today).Sun wins, and the moral of this story is: "Kindness effects more than severity."Most of us are conditioned to be hard on ourselves as a way of motivating ourselves to take action. But all this does in the long-term is undermine our self-trust. No one likes to be nagged, criticised, or bullied into doing things, so it makes for a miserable life if we're doing these things to ourselves.The antidote to being hard on ourselves lies in understanding and compassion.When we understand why we feel resistance to doing some things, why taking action is hard in this particular situation, and why we're struggling to step up and do what we really want to do, we're in a much better position to be able to change that.[Tweet ""The curious paradox is that when I can accept myself just as I am, then I can change." - Carl Rogers"]Further reading: The 5 foundations of self-kindness & Why I don't talk about self-lovePhoto Credit: Danielle Marroquin