Be kind to yourself:
Yourself As You Do Others (If You Believe in Being Kind)
the parent of a toddler, I find that I am often calling out reminders during my
sons play with other children. I tell him, Be gentle! He hasnt
learned to talk yet and I dont know how much he understands, but I am always
on my toes to make sure that he plays nicely.
I observe other parents at various play areas, I see that this is universal
we are constantly teaching our children to be nice to other people. Be gentle!
can be heard all around the playground. Recalling my own childhood, I know my
mother and father did the same thing. But when I look closer at my childhood I
realize something interesting. While I was taught to be kind to others, I was
not taught to be kind to myself.
parents were strict in many ways and expected perfect behaviour. Imperfect
behaviour was punished with tongue-lashings, and so I found myself on the receiving
end of many scoldings. I was reprimanded for spilling my drink, skinning my knees,
spraining my ankle, reading too little (educational text), reading too much (novels),
not writing neatly enough, not knowing something I should have known
(like how to read time at age 6, despite no one ever teaching me), telling a lie,
telling the truth. You name it, I was probably in trouble over it. As a result
I internalized a lot of my parents rebukes and really didnt need them
to scold me throughout my young adult life as I could do it to myself, all by
myself. Youre so stupid! was a phrase I often told myself. Another
one was, Argh! You did it again! As well as, Maybe you just
shouldnt talk anymore.
speaking with many others Ive come to believe that this lack of kindness
toward oneself is common. You can forgive others for small mistakes, sometimes
even large ones, but you often cannot forgive yourself. You scrutinize every aspect
of your behaviour what you said and the way you said it; what you did and
how you did it and kick yourself for saying or doing the wrong thing in
the worst possible way. You run those mortifying scenarios over and over in your
head. You ruminate.You worry about what youve said and what youve
done. You get stressed out.
seems we can usually give other people a break and the benefit of the doubt, but
we cannot give these things to ourselves. Which makes sense were
just doing what weve learned. However, you are not doomed to bash yourself
forever. This harmful habit can be unlearned; a kinder, healthier way of thinking
can be learned. Heres how:
Yourself: Youre Only Human
it or not, you were created to be imperfect. Youre supposed to say and do
the wrong things sometimes. Whoops stuck your foot in your mouth again?
Congratulations! Youve just proved that youre normal. Accidentally
spilled wine on your boss at the annual company shindig? Hurray! Youre actually
human! Funnily enough, we often forget this basic fact. So remind yourself, and
do it a lot.
because youre human it doesnt mean you cant address what happened.
When I was a student studying for my M.A. in counselling psychology, one of my
professors told me, If you think youve said something wrong to your
client, and you havent addressed it before the session ends, bring it up
in the next session. Dont just leave it. Work it out.
have found that this piece of advice is effective both inside and outside of counselling
sessions. These days, when I unintentionally say or do something that I think
is hurtful or offensive, I will try to discuss it with the person in question.
Once, when a single-mother friend of mine asked whether another friend of mine
had any children, I breezily replied, No, hes not married. It
was only after I had gone home that I was chagrined to realize that I might have
hurt her feelings by implying that only married people should have children. I
quickly called her up and said, Earlier today, I made such-and-such comment
and I just realized how insensitive it was. Im so sorry!
people that Ive done this with have been very gracious and have forgiven
me immediately. Sometimes you have to make amends in order to be forgiven (for
instance, if you really did spill wine on your boss you should probably offer
to pay for dry cleaning). Most people, however, have told me that they didnt
even hear what I said or, if they heard the offending comment, they
didnt find it offensive. Once you learn that the other person has forgiven
you, or didnt take offense in the first place, youll find it much
easier to stop beating yourself up.
Yourself: How Significant Is This, Anyway?
I was in seventh grade I was chosen out of the entire student body to read the
morning announcements over the P.A. system. A distinguished honour, indeed. One
day a friend of mine approached, reminded me that it was our mutual friends
birthday, and asked if Id be able to wish her a happy birthday after that
mornings announcements. Well, why not? I thought, and wished my friend a
cheery, Happy Birthday, Lynn! over the loudspeaker.
words: big mistake.
was told that I broke the rules and was unfair to all of the other students who
celebrated a birthday that day. The esteemed position of morning-announcements-reader
was stripped away from me. I was devastated and ashamed. I hoped I wouldnt
be expelled. I kicked myself relentlessly for years to come for doing such a horrid,
hurtful, stupid thing.
Im not so hard on myself about that incident. At the time, it seemed like
the most enormously wrong thing I could have done. Now, however, looking back,
I dont think it was that bad. It wasnt the best choice Ive ever
made, but the world didnt crumble. Ive come to realize that that mistake
didnt hold as much significance as Id once thought.
significant are your mistakes? How big are they, really? Will what you did or
what you said still matter 50 years from now?
have acknowledged all of your mistakes to the utmost. Yes, you screwed up here.
Yes, that was a humdinger of a goof there. But what about the things youve
done well? What about the times youve said the right words at just the right
step is difficult to do because weve been taught that were supposed
to be humble. Nobody likes a braggart. Well, you dont have to shout it from
the rooftops, but you can certainly put in as much effort into reminding yourself
of what youve done well as youve put into reminding yourself of what
youve done poorly.
step does not come naturally to most people. It is very difficult to do. Its
necessary to practice often if you want to change your habitual ways of thinking.
To Be Kind
be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself as you forgive others. Remember to offer
yourself some encouraging words. Treat yourself the way youd want others
to treat you be gentle.
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