Do you have a difficult time being kind to yourself?
Loving yourself may not even feel like an option according to your anxious mind. It may say, “You don’t deserve love because….” You probably can fill in the blank with many unhelpful statements your rule-making mind typically whispers each time you hear someone talk about self-compassion.
As we grew up, we were influenced by many people. Words and teachings from our well-meaning parents, teachers, coaches, faith leaders, and society in general have influenced how we think about ourselves. Maybe you grew up hearing, “Good boys don’t cry. Good girls should be nice all the time. You’re not trying hard enough. You should know better!” The list goes on and on.
Do you remember how you felt when you heard those words? Did you experience emotions like stress, anxiety, anger, shame, guilt, or insecurity?
We all have echoes in our minds that may continue to affect the way we view and treat ourselves. The question is, do we believe those words are set in stone? Do we need to believe every word that we hear and read from others? Do we need to believe every word our mind says to us?
Have you noticed your posture and demeanor when you start beating yourself up because, “You should know better.”? Are the negative statements inspiring, empowering, and providing you with spiritual, emotional, and mental well-being? The human mind is a critical mind. After all, if it weren’t, your ancestors would not have survived and you would not be reading this article.
The good news is that even though you may not be used to treating yourself kindly, you can learn how to do it! Research shows that when people are self-compassionate, they are able to recognize hardships as part of life and ruminate less on how things should be. Self-compassion increases inner strength, courage, and resilience in the face of difficult situations.1
You can start developing self-compassion by being grateful for what your human body allows you to do. You can be curious and see if gratitude can help you develop self-compassion. Try the following exercise, and see what you can learn.
Being Grateful For Your Body
When you wake up and/or when you go to bed, hold one of your fingers, then ask yourself,
“If someone asked me to cut off this finger, would I be willing to give it up?” Notice your reaction to this question. Ask yourself “why not?”
Notice how would you feel if you had to give up that finger. Ponder on what this particular finger allows you to do. Notice your thoughts and feelings and allow them to be present in this moment.
Then, hold up another finger and ask the same questions as above. Notice what your mind is saying. Go on and take another finger and ask the same question several times until you notice feeling some form of gratitude for the fingers on your hand.
The next day, choose another part of your body (e.g., your hand, eyes, feet, etc.) and ask yourself these same questions.
“If someone asked me to cut off my (name the part of your body), would I be willing to give it up?” Notice your reaction to this question. Ask yourself “why not?”
Notice what your mind says about your body with respect to ailments and parts of your body you don’t like (e.g., “I hate my nose.”). Would you be willing to ask those questions also?
What is your body able to do? Would you be willing to focus on what it can do instead of what it cannot do or what it looks like?
Is there gratitude showing up despite the adversity you’ve experienced in your life? Why would that be helpful?
What about your mind? Do you wish you had a healthier mind? Of course you do. We all wish we were healthier especially if the illness is obsessive-compulsive disorder or another type of mental health challenge that may be distracting you from living a values-focused life.
You may have heard that wishing for something that is not there can create more suffering and frustration. It has been said, pain is universal. However, when we resist it, we end up suffering, carrying and dragging the pain because the more we don’t want it, the more we focus on it.
Would you consider noticing what your body and mind allow you to do every day? If so, would you consider being grateful for your amazing, though imperfect, human body and mind? What do they allow you to do? As you develop this gratitude, would you be willing to allow self-kindness as well?
We can choose to have an attitude of gratitude and be kind to ourselves every day. No matter how hard life is, we can still choose how we respond to adversity.
Remember, you are not alone in your pain. We are all on the same train called life, riding an imperfect life, and choosing how we’ll respond to it. Let’s try to be grateful for that!
1. Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself (New York: William Morrow, 2011).