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  • Writer's pictureWendy Rolon

Self-Kindness for Beginners

In my work with clients, I talk a lot about being kind to yourself, being patient and compassionate. This was the topic of my New Year’s post, Resolution Kindness. Next up, I’m going to explore why it can be so difficult to practice self-kindness, and then I’ll give a wee primer on how to get started, for those of you who would like to try and want some guidance. 

First,  let’s talk about barriers to self-kindness…

Is Self Kindness for wimps?

Most people think being kind to yourself sounds like a good idea, or at least part of them thinks that, but another part may be suspicious about it, worrying that intentionally being kind to yourself all the time could actually be an expression of weakness. We may equate being kind to ourselves with not having enough will power, letting our guard down, being lazy, copping out, going soft, being a loser, putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage, making yourself too vulnerable, etc. In general, it seems that kindness is a good thing, BUT these other suspicions can create ambivalence about practicing self-kindness, which can lead to inaction, feeling stuck, and maybe even end up creating anxiety. 

Will Self Kindness limit me?

Many of us are hardwired to want (perhaps even to need) to achieve, and then once we’ve reached our goal, to discount our achievement, move the goal posts and tell ourselves it’s necessary to achieve some more. We chase ideals, the perfect body, the biggest bank account, the highest accolades, the largest following. We joke around, saying things like “I’ll rest when I’m dead,” normalizing, even glorifying, the lifestyle of the workaholic. It used to be called Keeping up with the Joneses. More recently, I guess it’s been the Kardashians or

maybe just social media in general. In any event, with all the scrolling and yearning and perfectionism in lieu of actual connection, our very idea of real success, if we’re honest, may have become bloated with bright lights and standing ovations. And no matter how much we’ve already achieved, regardless of what we already have, we want MORE. And then once we have more, that won’t be enough either. Meanwhile, we postpone being kind to ourselves, thinking we’re not quite there yet. We don't actually deserve it. And the worst part of all this, is that regardless of how grand we become, for many of us, there’s a nagging voice worrying that all of this striving just might be totally incompatible with living a peaceful and healthy life. And isn’t that the point? Wait… isn’t it?

Sometimes “Success” is actually kinda toxic

I think it’s important to get curious about what’s happening when we find ourselves pursuing the ideal of what we imagine, and more importantly, hope others imagine to be our “success.” There’s a lot of comparing ourselves to others, worrying that we’re not good enough, planning to be better than we are now, etc. The main driver of this story is judgement. Tons of judgement, which is often the opposite of kindness. There’s also lots of impatience, because until we get to this imagined strata of Olympian perfection, we’re in constant low lever (or maybe high level) pain, so we want to hurry the whole thing up! Patience requires a post all of its own, but I’ll mention something I learned from Buddhism that gives me great comfort. It’s that patience is the highest virtue because without it, none of the other virtues are reliably possible. 

But back to kindness. Ok, so maybe you decide to give self-kindness a go, but when you imagine what this looks like, you have only the vaguest notion. If that sounds like you, notice how after reading this last sentence, just a few seconds ago, you may have already started judging yourself for not knowing how to practice self-kindness. Maybe you’re already worried that you’ll fail at kindness. Maybe you’re calling yourself mean names because here’s one more thing you’re clueless about. Well, I have good news!

This is actually the perfect starting place. 

The Practice of Noticing

Practicing self-kindness starts when you begin to notice all the times you’re not kind to yourself. This seems relatively simple but it’s actually harder than you might think. Many of us are so habituated to being mean to ourselves, we don’t even notice when we’re doing it. And once we do notice, the first thing that happens is we judge ourselves for it, and then we remember that we’re trying to be less judgmental toward ourselves, and we judge ourselves for judging. If it wasn’t so painful, I’d say it’s almost kind of funny. For me, it conjures up an image of Groucho Marx saying “I wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.” 

So, what we’re trying to do here, is to notice without judgement. How do we do this?

Noticing without Judgement

It’s a useful practice to gently notice all sorts of things about your own behavior but for today, we’re going to focus on noticing when you’re being mean to yourself. Let’s say you make a mistake while you’re driving and it scares you. What we tend to do almost immediately is to either blame someone else for what has happened, (“Learn how to drive, jackass!”) or blame ourselves harshly for what has happened “Jeez, I’m the worst driver on earth.”) When this sort of thing happens to you, you may feel too dysregulated initially to show up for yourself in a supportive way. You might be too busy either beating yourself up or plotting revenge against the person you’re blaming. That’s ok. What you can do is, later on, review what happened.

Here's how it can look:

  • Remember how it felt in your body right after the mistake. Maybe somebody honked their horn at you in that really obnoxious way that goes on forever and makes your heart pound. Review the experience, and see if you can feel what happened in your body. 

  • Maybe your chest got really tight, so as you remember, take a deep breath and put your hand over your heart. Keep breathing and see if that lets you soften a little bit. You might close your eyes, if that feels good. As you sit there breathing, maybe you actually need to release some tears, which is the body’s amazing way of down-regulating when it feels a lot of stress it wants to release. 

  • As you sit there, breath going in and out, maybe you notice a voice that keeps telling the story of the mistake over and over, in a self-righteous way. And maybe you can acknowledge that voice and let it know, “Yeah, that was unfair. It’s ok. People make mistakes all the time. Nobody has to be perfect. Not you, and not the other guy. It’s all ok, and I see why you’re stressed out about it.” And you keep breathing like that for a moment longer. Maybe you give yourself a strong squeeze and then do a giant exhale.

This a good way to practice of self-kindness, and the whole exercise can happen in about 60 seconds. You’re waking up your inner compassionate witness because that’s the part of you that’s the wisest and the most loving. That’s the part of you that can take care of the other parts. It’s not always easy to do this, which is why it’s good to practice. Taking a moment to notice, without judgement, when you’re unkind to yourself, and then soothing yourself either with kind words, a squeeze you give yourself, or anything that feels soothing, this practice can create the foundation of self-kindness, allowing your compassionate witness to step in and give you the safety and love you need. 

Why is this helpful?

Practicing self-kindness in this way is helpful because it gives you an increased capacity for staying calm and grounded instead of being triggered all the time by life's unpleasant surprises. It also helps you to be kinder to those around you. Ultimately, practicing self-kindness enhances your sense of inner peace, contentment and emotional freedom, which I dare say, is the point.

Do you have questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you. ♡

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