— Researched and written by Dr. Sandip Roy.
We are often more unkind toward ourselves than others in our lives. But how can you be kinder to yourself? And, by the way, what is self-kindness?
Science finds that we can’t really love others if we don’t love ourselves. So, empathy, kindness, and compassion for your “me” are what you need first.
But we cannot seem to forgive ourselves for our past mistakes. Many of us cannot stop ourselves from pushing ourselves too hard to make a living. And even then, we cannot stop telling ourselves that we are not enough.
Self-compassion is essential to compassion for others. Both involve the heartfelt experience of sharing the pain of another, and the wish for alleviation of their suffering. If you can feel compassionate towards another human, you must allow yourself the same treatment.
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What is the meaning of self-kindness?
Self-kindness is treating oneself with the same kindness, concern, and compassion that one would offer to a good friend or loved one. It involves being gentle and understanding with oneself, especially during times of difficulty or struggle.
Self-kindness is a positive attitude toward oneself that is friendly, generous, caring, and beneficial. It means treating oneself with kindness, forgiveness, and compassion. It is not merely an absence of negative self-perception.
Self-kindness means being compassionate and sympathetic to ourselves when we fail or feel like a failure, instead of criticizing ourselves while ignoring our pains.
What happens when you are unkind to yourself?
A lack of self-kindness can be a hidden source of toxic stress. It can cause you to skip sleep, strive for perfection, and avoid things that relax and rejuvenate you. It can trigger feelings of self-criticism, self-loathing, and self-rage.
Why is self-kindness important?
Self-kindness is essential because it lets us be happier and enjoy the pleasant aspects of life. It reminds us to tend to our physical and emotional needs, to recognize when we are being harsh to ourselves, and to accept ourselves as we are. When we are kind to ourselves, we attract kind people to us and feel more connected to humanity.
How can you be more kind to yourself?
See self-kindness as more of a way of life than a practice to solve your current problems. This way, it will help you become more relaxed when you make a mistake, while also letting yourself embrace yourself for your past mistakes.
Here are some ways to increase your self-kindness:
1. Give yourself self-kindness affirmations.
Self-affirmations are positive statements that you say to yourself. They honor your feats and affirm your worth to yourself.
Affirmations broaden our sense of self-concept (Critcher and Dunning, 2015). You can use positive self-affirmations to strengthen and sustain your self-kindness initiatives.
You might get yourself a poster you will see every morning upon waking up, that might say:
You could set yourself a few reminders (as desktop or mobile notifications, or as Post-It notes):
- I will treat myself the way I would treat my best friend.
- I am free to let go of other people’s opinions and judgments.
- It’s never simple to change, but I can learn to stop being so hard on myself, one step at a time.
- It’s okay to forgive myself for my past mistakes.
- No one’s stopping me from being kind to myself.
- I deserve my own compassion, tenderness, and empathy for myself.
- My mistakes are for learning, and they show that I’ve grown.
- I forgive myself and accept my flaws because no one is perfect.
- I forgive myself for today and look forward to a better tomorrow with self-love.
- I’m not the first or last person to feel this way, but I’m getting better with self-kindness.
2. Take a self-kindness day.
To start with, mark one day in your week when you will do things that make you happy, away from things that you do the other days of the week.
Your work is important, and it may be the best source of your life satisfaction. But on your self-kindness day, try to stay away from that.
It is because when something is routine, it becomes a little stale. It stops giving the same pleasure when you do it every day. You can’t love the last bite of your 7th pizza the same as you do the first bite of your first pizza in a day.
So, break the pattern and do something novel that makes you kind to yourself, like:
- Spending a day at the spa.
- Visiting a zoo or museum.
- Taking a meditation class.
Remember to schedule your self-kindness day ahead of time. Set up recurring reminders at the start of each month. Plan ahead of time what you’ll do on that particular day.
3. Write yourself a self-kindness letter.
A self-kindness letter needs you to drop your defenses. To be kind to yourself in written words, you must first be able to uninhibitedly write about the troubling emotions that an event causes.
After you have mentioned the event and its significance in your life, write yourself a few kind words in the third person. For example:
Dear [your name],
I am writing this at a time when you’re having a hard time about [mentioning the incident]. I am sorry you have to go through this struggle of feeling [name your emotions].
Let me tell you as your best friend that what you did was not done for the first time by any human. Nor will it be the last time ever. Humans will keep making mistakes as long as they exist.
Please realize that it was an honest human mistake. It doesn’t make you what you are today.
To make a mistake is human, but to forgive is divine. Forgive yourself, buddy. You have learned enough from it to avoid repeating it.
I’ll say it again: I hope you understand that your mistakes do not define you.
It’s safe to move on. It’s okay to laugh at things and enjoy yourself.
I really want you to feel better.
I’m thinking that a dinner date [or any other enjoyable activity] for the two of us would be helpful to mark this transition from struggle to freedom.
Please know that I care about you and am here for you whenever you need me.
Be kind to yourself, dude. Wishing you happiness,
Self-distancing, a helpful mechanism of emotional control that helps us generate meaning from our experiences, is facilitated by expressive writing (Park et al., 2016).
All you’ll need is a pen and a piece of paper to get started on healing from past mental traumas. Learn how to do Expressive Writing.
4. Practice Mindfulness Meditation.
Mindfulness meditation helps you face and acknowledge your thoughts without judging them or avoiding them.
Mindfulness is a focused awareness of the events and experiences in the present moment. On the flip side, a lack of mindfulness is unawareness of the processes in our inner and outer worlds.
A drop of mindfulness each day can help you develop a non-judging, non-identifying attitude. It lets you cultivate a steady focus, detached vigilance, openness, and curiosity.
So, try including 5–15 minutes of mindfulness meditation in your daily life.
Here is a beginner’s guide: 7-Step Beginner Guide To Mindfulness Meditation.
What does kindness really mean?
According to psychologists, kindness refers to prosocial behavior that intends to benefit others, regardless of any personal benefit to oneself. It is characterized by empathy, compassion, and concern for the well-being of others.
Research in positive psychology has strongly suggested that kindness has many benefits, including increased happiness, improved social connections, and enhanced physical health. When we engage in acts of kindness, our brains release feel-good chemicals like dopamine, which can boost our mood and reduce stress.
What is self-kindness according to psychologists?
Psychologists consider self-kindness to be an important aspect of self-compassion. Self-kindness is the opposite of self-criticism or self-judgment, and it can help us reduce feelings of shame and anxiety, and increase our overall well-being.
Some self-kindness strategies are:
1. Being mindful of one’s own feelings and needs, and treating oneself with care and compassion.
2. Offering oneself positive and supportive self-talk, rather than engaging in negative self-talk or self-criticism.
3. Prioritizing self-care activities that promote physical and emotional well-being, such as exercise, healthy eating, and relaxation.
4. Cultivating self-acceptance and self-compassion, and recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and experiences struggles.
Kindness involves a desire to help others, and a willingness to act on that desire. It can take many forms, from simple acts like holding the door open for someone, to more involved acts like volunteering or donating to charity.
Kindness is also reciprocal, in that when we show kindness to others, we are more likely to receive it in return.
This creates a positive cycle of giving and receiving, which can benefit individuals and communities alike.
Our three takeaways:
- Go easy on yourself. You, as much as anyone else, deserve peace, fun, and joy.
- You cannot change your past, so don’t keep dragging it into your present. Learn to let go.
- Get creative. Adding a twist to your regular activities is a good idea. Say, make an entire meal of your morning coffee.
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