Self-kindness: the antidote to being so hard on yourself

When last did you really listen and take notice of what you are saying to yourself during the course of an average day? You might be surprised to find how often you put yourself down, criticize yourself or are just being plain nasty to yourself.

Self-criticism has become such a habit for most of us that we don’t even realise that we are doing it. “You’re so stupid”, “You can’t get anything done” “You’re a terrible mom”, “Your skin looks awful” “You’re so awkward” and on and on we go. Can you imagine saying these things to a friend? No way!

Self-kindness is the opposite of self-criticism, but unfortunately, it’s something that many of us struggle with. We know that our capacity for kindness is huge – just think about how you treat your loved ones – but we need to make a conscious effort to direct some of that kindness to ourselves.

SO WHAT EXACTLY IS SELF-KINDNESS?

Dr Kristin Neff is an expert on self-compassion and according to her self-kindness is when we are actively soothing and comforting ourselves when things go wrong. Instead of being harsh and critical, we use gentle, caring language that let ourselves know that it’s OK to mess up, it’s OK to be imperfect – we’re human.

It means that when we experience something that is difficult, we stop, turn our focus inward and say to ourselves exactly what we would say to a dear friend:

 “What you are going through right now is really difficult. I’m sorry that you’re having such a hard time”

We have come to believe that being self-critical is a way to help us improve and move forward. In reality, self-criticism has the opposite effect. It undermines our self-confidence and makes us feel anxious – which makes growing and improving just that much more difficult.

When we are kind to ourselves though, we are encouraging, supportive and caring, which helps us believe in ourselves more as well as in our ability to change, grow and evolve. Self-kindness is therefore a much more effective way to bring about change in ourselves that will help us live happy and fulfilled lives.

HOW TO PRACTICE MORE SELF-KINDNESS:

·         Use gentler, kinder language when speaking to yourself

This includes using language that conveys understanding and empathy, and also using terms of endearment. It might feel a bit silly to be calling yourself “Sweetie”, when talking to yourself, but the effect is surprisingly powerful!

E.g. Instead of saying to yourself, “You really suck at this”, try “Aw hun, this is hard. I’m sorry you’re struggling.”

·         Use physical gestures that are comforting

Again, this might feel silly, but try putting your hand on your heart or giving yourself a little hug. These are soothing gestures that trigger your physiology and helps release oxytocin, which promotes feelings of love and wellbeing.

YOU CAN ALSO TRY THIS LITTLE EXERCISE NEXT TIME WHEN YOU NOTICE SELF-CRITICISM CREEP IN:

1.       Close your eyes, take a deep, slow breath and acknowledge that which you are experiencing in this moment. (E.g. struggle, failure, shame, frustration.)

2.       Put your hands on your heart and become aware of your heartbeat and the rise and fall of your chest.

3.       Say to yourself “May I be kind to myself” and repeat as many times as needed.

 Treating yourself with kindness and compassion will not only have a positive impact on your life - it will also be a gift to your children. By modelling to them what it looks like to truly care for and be empathetic towards yourself, you are laying the foundations that will enable them to have a healthy, happy relationship with themselves.