Self-kindness is treating yourself well, being kind to yourself, as if you are important and that you like and respect yourself.
It involves feelings of friendliness towards yourself. We all have this capacity to be kind, it’s built into our DNA; our hearts and minds.
Yet, there is a curious phenomenon that we can treat our friends and loved ones in a friendly and kind way, especially when they’re having a hard time.
But we often don’t extend these heart-felt sentiments to ourselves, and can be more unkind to ourselves than we are with people we don’t actually like.
We can give our friends a hug, ask our loved ones what they need right now to help. But we tend to beat ourselves up, criticise ourselves in unpleasant ways.
This is reinforced by our culture; the rule that it’s ok to be kind to others but not to ourselves.
The two ‘practices’ of self-kindness:
1. Loving Kindness
Kindness, as a practice, first appeared in the West when Buddhist teachers, especially Sharon Salzberg, brought the practice of ‘loving kindness’ from the east to the west in the 1970s. Loving kindness meditation involves generating kind intentions to yourself, loved ones, friends, people you don’t know well, and those that cause us difficulties.
Loving kindness intentions can be in the form of phrases, visualisations and/or feelings. The practice of self-kindness offers a way of learning to be kind to yourself consistently. You experience opportunities to be supportive and caring towards yourself, especially in times of struggle.
With self-kindness practice, you can reassure yourself that you are ok and doing the best you can right now. So, rather than attacking and putting yourself down for being inadequate, you give yourself warmth and unconditional acceptance.
Self-kindness activities also teach you to soothe and comfort yourself.
During the practice, you first direct your kind focus to yourself and repeat certain phrases, for instance:
- May I be calm.
- May I be kind to myself
- May I be healthy
- May I be happy
- May I know I matter and that I’m lovable.
- May I be safe.
If the phrases don’t resonate particularly well, visualisations or feelings can be used instead, where you generate feelings or images of safety, ease, happiness or well-being. You then direct your attention, in the same ways, to those close to you and those who are distant. Finally, you focus with loving-kindness on difficult individuals in your life.
2. Mindful Self-Compassion
In more recent times, there has been a resurgence of interest in loving kindness practices. This is due, in part, to the dedication and associated research of Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer who have developed a self-compassion program called Mindful Self-Compassion.
Self-compassion has the same qualities as compassion for others.
“It involves the clear seeing of our own suffering, and a caring response to our suffering that includes the desire to help, and recognition that suffering is part of the shared human condition “ K.Neff
Major components of this mindful self-compassion program are kindness and mindfulness. The other is common humanity; the declaration that difficulties in life are due to the nature of being human, and not about any personal inadequacies.
This combination of mindfulness, kindness and common humanity provide an effective way of dispelling the self- judgement and derogatory internal chatter that most of us have.
We develop a friendly relationship with ourselves, and all that this entails.
With the power of mindfulness, you can recognise the extent to which you hurt yourself through all of that self-criticism. There’s a greater understanding of yourself.
You can acknowledge that your weaknesses and failures are part of the human condition, and require understanding and healing rather than self-condemnation. You become motivated to help yourself, in all the ways you can.
Rumi wisely states, “When we practice loving kindness and compassion, we are the first ones to profit.”
“But how does self-kindness improve my health?”
Over the years, many studies have demonstrated the efficacy of both practices: loving kindness and mindful self-compassion. They have been found to be most helpful for mental health issues like anxiety, as well as medical concerns like chronic pain.
In particular, mindful self-compassion research has shown:
- resolution of depression, anxiety, shame and increased rates of happiness and life satisfaction.
- improvements in issues that arise from striving for self-esteem, e.g., social comparison and emotional instability.
- healthier body image
- enhanced physical health and immunity, due to reduced sympathetic nervous system (stress reaction) arousal; coupled with increased parasympathetic (rest and digest reaction) arousal.
Other benefits include:
- more self-confidence and capacity to bounce back after disappointment and failure
- taking more personal responsibility for mistakes.
- engaging more readily in healthy lifestyle choices
- developing resilience to cope with challenging life situations.
- experiencing more caring, loving personal relationships.
“But won’t self-kindness make me weaker and self-pitying?”
Some people have concerns about the practice of loving kindness and self-compassion when they first learn about them. There’s a belief that they can cause self-pity, making you feel sorry for yourself or lead to a sense of weakness and vulnerability.
The opposite is actually true. In being kind to yourself, you develop the new belief that you can cope with difficult stuff, and that you are ok just as you are. An inner strength develops via the cultivation of resilience.
Another reservation is that you can become self-centred and selfish using these practices. Actually, you develop greater kindness and compassion for others.
You don’t become apathetic, as some people fear.
You actually develop more motivation to achieve your goals, including looking after yourself through healthy eating, exercise, other healthy lifestyle choices.
This is due to a renewed energy for long-term well-being, rather than your habitual cravings for short-term delights.
Likewise, you can let go of another doubt that developing kindness and compassion for yourself undermines your capacities to succeed. That the only way to succeed is with self-criticism.
Actually, self-criticism is a poor motivator of behaviour, as it undermines your self-confidence.
Rather than using harsh words to get you to work towards achieving your goals, you encourage yourself to achieve well. This is because loving kindness and self-compassion practices develop personal responsibility, and equally importantly, a sense of respect and caring for yourself.
Valuing yourself means you become less fearful of failure, and leads to heightened motivation to reach your full potential.
True health is about more than just exercise, it is about combining a healthy body with a healthy, happy mind – and that is the beauty of adding the practice of self-kindness to your daily routines.
Would you like to learn more about the practice of self-kindness and how it can help you to improve your overall health and wellbeing? Being part of the MaKE my health program will provide you with the self-Kindness tools you’ll need to radically change how you treat yourself; a valued and cared for friend.