As I walk into my office building, I pick up my mail as I do every day. There are advertisements for therapist trainings and the newest editions of People and Parents magazine for the waiting room. I scan the covers of the magazines on the elevator ride up to my office. In big letters under the magazine title on Parents magazine are the words “Imagine Kindness”. In a much smaller icon under the giant “P” for People, it says “the kindness issue”. Two totally different types of magazines, yet they are both focusing on kindness.
I quickly turned to the editor’s note in each magazine to see what they had to say about kindness. They both talked about what gets in the way of being kind in today’s world and how kindness and the lack thereof impact us and others. They offered suggestions on how to be more kind to others and encouraged you to read the articles about how kindness from others changed people’s lives. What was missing was a discussion about kindness towards ourselves. While being kind to ourselves and others often go hand in hand, the people I work with often find it easier to be kind to others than to themselves. They have high standards for themselves, expecting that they be perfect and when they fall short, they are hard on themselves.
When I hear my clients talking negatively about themselves, I often ask, “Would you say that to someone else?” The common answer is that they wouldn’t say that to an enemy, let alone a close friend or family member. So how do we practice self-compassion? According to Kristin Neff, a leading researcher in self-compassion, there are three steps.
- Identify that this is a moment of suffering.
- Identify that suffering is a part of life, a part of being human
- Be kind to yourself in this moment.
How does this actually sound in your head? You might say something like “This is really hard. Other people go through this. I’m here for you.” Hugging yourself or putting your hands on your heart can add to the feelings of self-compassion in the moment.
Why not be self-compassionate?
People I work with often say that if they are not hard on themselves, they fear that they will not be as conscientious or careful in what they do and therefore, they fear making a mistake. However, when we practice self-compassion, if we do make a mistake, it doesn’t feel as bad and we are more open to learning from it than beating ourselves up. Additionally, not only does self-compassion have physical and mental health benefits; it also helps us to be more empathic and compassionate with others.