5 tips for being kinder to yourself
When people come into psychotherapy, they are often suffering from low mood and anxiety. These can be difficult symptoms, and sometimes people blame themselves for the way they feel. They may, over time, come to describe themselves as inadequate, unworthy, wrong, or somehow lacking.
When this happens, there is likely little capacity to be kind or compassionate internally. We become our own harshest critic. It is perhaps ironic that people who experience this may at the same time be working hard to be kind and understanding to other people, sometimes even at their own expense.
Compassion, like most things, begins at home, within ourselves. True compassion responds to our own needs and those of other people and the world at large, asking in totality 'what is good to do?'. Kindness and caring are open experiences - they unite not divide; they are not a zero-sum see-saw.
If we are able to be kind to others, we already have the capacity for compassion. This can be used to increase our own self-care, enabling self-esteem and self-love to follow. Love is a verb; it is something you do, not only something you feel.
I am often asked by clients 'but how, how do I show compassion for myself? How do I self-care?'.
There is no one answer to this question. Compassion is an experience we each have to make in a way that fits for us. Psychotherapy is a valuable space to be able to move towards this, understanding yourself and your needs, and finding ways to turn towards yourself.
That said, there are five suggestions I want to offer here that may help you find greater compassion for yourself. I offer them as examples to adapt and make your own, because for it to last it needs to fit comfortably within you, and the best fit comes when you generate your own answers.
5 tips for being kinder to yourself
1. Talk kindly to yourself
Tuning into the way you speak to yourself can be illuminating. If you have a critical voice inside, ask yourself 'would I say this to my best friend?'. If the answer is no, then don’t say it to yourself - you deserve better. How would you say what you are thinking to someone you love (if you would say it at all)? Try this version on yourself - how does it now feel?
2. Do kind things for yourself
Rather than waiting for your feelings about yourself to change, act as if you loved yourself, and be kind. Make yourself a cuppa when you are stressed, sit in the garden and breathe in the plants, have a relaxing bath, go for a swim - whatever it is you find soothing, do that. Feelings change when we ARE kind rather than when we FEEL kind. Action shows us that we are worthy of love, even though we might not yet feel it, and the feelings will flow when the actions are more normal and regular.
3. Express yourself
A key part of compassion is acknowledging and being with what is present. Let yourself notice your feelings, thoughts, and body sensations. When things are uncomfortable, find a way to express that, either to someone you trust or to yourself. Paint, draw, dance, sing, sculpt, play, clown... there are many media. It’s not about creating a beautiful work of art, it’s just about being real.
4. Be in nature
A great way to find a connection beyond yourself is to be with nature. From caring for a pet to tending plants and gardens, there are many ways we can do this in everyday life. Add to this getting out into parks, by rivers, or even out into the wilds - there is something deeply restorative about being with the natural. Let yourself breathe it in, feel the textures and sensations, hear the sounds, and fully see the sights. Nature has a way of bringing us back to our physical self, of finding compassion for our form as well as our mind.
5. Be still
When you’re in constant motion, it’s hard to notice what you think and feel, let alone to know what you need. Take regular pauses in your day. Stop and notice the flowers in a garden, pause to listen to the birdsong, take a moment to appreciate the kind gesture of a fellow worker or friend. Pause, and just notice yourself. Breathe. Be still, just for a few moments. When you start moving again, you might just be more present, and more able to respond to the moment, and to your own needs.