Most people I know are kind people. They are considerate of others, thoughtful about what might make someone else feel good, and forgiving when others get something wrong. I would put myself in this category as well and have always thought it was a good way to be.
And of course, it is!! Being kind is a lovely way to be in the world, and it is good for us as well. It enhances the health-giving chemicals in our body as much as it does for those we are being kind to. However there is a caveat: are we also remembering to be kind to ourselves? I know that I used to put others first all the time, and run myself out of energy because I didn’t give myself enough time to recover and re-energise. Worse than that, I would then beat myself up for not being able to maintain the level of kindness that I expected from myself.
When we do this, the good effects of our kindness start to diminish, not just for us, but also for those on the receiving end. The effort we make to maintain being kind offsets any benefits we derive biologically from being kind: the stress hormones are released and outweigh the health-giving hormones. And even though our intention to be kind is still the same, there is a little bit of us that feels somewhat resentful of giving of ourselves when we’re running out of energy, and others will get some vague sense of this, despite our best intentions: they are left feeling as if they owe us somehow.
On top of all this, we then criticise ourselves for not being good enough, and make ourselves feel even worse! This is very mean of us!! We would never treat a friend as badly as we often treat ourselves!
Now I wouldn’t claim to have cracked this one completely. I still find myself over-stretching in order to be kind to others, and I often find that I am beating myself up for not being considerate enough of others. Nonetheless, I am getting much better at remembering that neither of these old habits is useful for me, or my ability to be kind.
So what helps us to remember to be kind to ourselves as well?
Notice when you have over-stretched. If you are having to ‘gear yourself up’ to be kind, you’ve gone past your limits. If you feel really drained after even a brief interaction with someone, you’ve gone past your limits. If you find yourself wishing the particular interaction were finished now, you’ve gone past your limits.
Notice when you’re criticising yourself for not being considerate enough of others. You will begin to notice that the effects of being over-stretched are often followed by a second dose of thoughts that make us feel even worse.
When we begin to notice these negative effects on ourselves consciously, we are more likely to do something about it. Then we move to the next stage: being consciously kind to ourselves.
As a kind person, decide what kind thing you will do for yourself each day. Do this in the morning when you first wake up, so it becomes built in as part of your day. You may allow yourself to stay in bed a little longer, or let yourself off that task you set yourself, but don’t really need to do today. You may buy yourself a little treat at lunchtime, or have a conversation with a friend and talk about your ‘stuff’ rather than theirs.
By getting onto the habit of being kind to ourselves in some way each day, we are both re-energising ourselves and practising kindness as much as if it were for another, thus enhancing the level to which we are a kind person.
When you realise you are being critical of yourself, ask yourself what you would say to your best friend about this, if they had done it or thought it. We are all much harder on ourselves than we are on others, and that’s just not fair!
Limit your kindness with others. This is a hard one for a kind person! But you know that sometimes your kindness doesn’t seem to be appreciated, and you also know that sometimes your kindness to others is detrimental to you.
Give yourself a better chance of sustaining your kindness, and feeling good about it. Give your kindness when you’re in the mood, to those who appreciate it. And if you are in the mood, sometimes give kindness where it doesn’t feel appreciated – it’s fun then, feels good if you have no expectations.
When we apply kindness to ourselves first, we don’t become less kind to others. The reverse is true in my experience: we have more heartfelt kindness to give away. It’s like stocking up our reserve of kindness so we can be even more generous with it.
Experiment with these ideas and see what happens, to you and with others. And let me know how it goes!
The steps to being kind to ourselves
- Notice when you have over-stretched.
- Notice when you’re criticising yourself for not being considerate enough of others.
- As a kind person, decide what kind thing you will do for yourself each day.
- When you realise you are being critical of yourself, ask yourself what you would say to your best friend about this, if they had done it or thought it.
- Limit your kindness with others