Why It Can be So Damn Hard to be Kind to Ourselves
At least once a week I see posts on the internet about the importance of being kind to yourself, loving yourself, or self-care.
The message is great and an important one. Taking care of ourselves is incredibly important. The problem is, sometimes being kind to ourselves is a lot easier said than done.
When someone says, “just be kind to yourself,” it can feel as if someone is telling you to just completely reprogram your brain without acknowledging where you are at and the journey along the path to self-kindness.
So today I want to speak to the roadblocks that can stop us on our path to self-kindness.
1. We think that being hard on ourselves is a good motivator
This might be the most common reason people don’t think it’s a good idea to be kind to yourself. However, it is so popular because it actually works, sorta.
In high school I primarily got good grades by worrying all the time about my classes and obsessively studying. It worked, sorta.
But what happened when I got a bad grade? My entire self-esteem collapsed.
Being hard on ourselves can motivate us to accomplish certain things in the short term. But as a long term strategy, it leads to a miserable life. It might lead to achievement, but not happiness.
So what kind of life do you want to live: One where you achieve more and dislike yourself OR one where you are kind to yourself regardless of what you achieve?
2. We are afraid of hurting others
Often being kind to ourselves means prioritizing our needs first. If we have a people pleasing aspect to ourselves, this can be difficult and feel uncomfortable.
Perhaps we learned that we always have to take care of others and not ourselves. We might have learned that taking care of ourselves is selfish and bad. And if we stop caring for others something bad is going to happen to them and it will be our fault.
The truth is, when we practice self-kindness, other people will have all sorts of responses. Some people might not like us anymore and leave us. Some people might gain more respect for us.
We can’t really control that. It might be that you are in a relationship where the other person will feel hurt if we prioritize our own needs.
This does not mean we should ignore how our actions might affect others and stop caring about people. It means we create a healthy balance so are kind to ourselves first so that we have more to offer to others.
3. We don’t believe we deserve kindness
If we grew up in a household with a lot of negativity and criticism, it is only natural for us to develop a self-critical voice in our heads.
We may believe that kindness = weakness, and that there is no time to be kind.
Often, when we are in survival mode, slowing down to be kind to ourselves just doesn’t make sense.
Unconsciously we may also believe that people who are kind to us are weak or have a hidden agenda. That we can’t really trust people who are kind to us.
Look within and notice what messages you got in childhood about kindness.
4. It threatens the negative voices in our head
If we have been practicing self-criticism for a long time, we may have become somewhat familiar with this negative voice.
Thoughts like: “You are never good enough,” “You will always fail,” “You don’t deserve love” become the only tools we have.
We have learned to use these self-critical tools to our advantage – for example – as a way to motivate ourselves or as an excuse to not even try.
When we are introduced to a new tool – self-kindness – it is unfamiliar and threatens our usual way to doing things.
Why be kind to myself if I’ve been using self-criticism for so long?
The only answer to this is to try it out yourself. Give self-kindness and try notice what it is like. It will likely be very uncomfortable at first, but perhaps there are some benefits as well.
Perhaps, with practice, self-kindness can provide joy, contentment, relaxation, and care in a way that self-criticism cannot.
5. We believe that only others can be kind to us
This is another sneaky belief that is quite common. We feel as though in order to receive kindness we have to go looking outside of ourselves.
The problem with this is that kindness exists within. In fact, one of the most loving caring and understanding people we could ever meet is ourselves.
When we believe that we have to have someone else say the perfect words to us to make us feel better, we become trapped.
This is not to say we shouldn’t ask for help. Relationships can be one of the most healing processes there is. The problem becomes when we always look to others for kindness, we lose out on the most attuned person there is, ourselves.
Who else could possibly know our needs better, what we want to hear, and how to care for us, than ourselves?
This list is by no means exhaustive. If we are unfamiliar with self-kindness, there may be many reasons why practicing it can be so hard.
It takes courage to look within and see what blocks us from love.
With time, slowly, we can learn to be kinder to ourselves.
Be patient with yourself on the journey and continue to practice.
Soon enough you’ll be a self-kindness master and it will come as second nature.
As the Buddha said, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”
Until next time,
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with anxiety and could use the support of a professional, it would be an honor to be of service. I offer Therapy for Anxiety and Mindfulness Workshops in Oakland, California.