Learning to be Kind to Yourself - 3 Steps to Help You Practice Self-Lovin'
I can remember being a little girl and listening to my mom and older sister pick at themselves and their bodies over and over again. “I wish my feet were smaller! They’re SO big!” “I wish I was thinner, I need to lose weight!” “My hair is so annoying, I wish it were straighter!” “Ugh, I’m so stupid!” And on and on it went. They were never good enough in their eyes. They seemed to always be looking to be someone different than who they were. And I can remember that at the sweet young age of 7, I already knew that there was something wrong with this picture. “No!” my little brain thought, “don’t say that! You’re perfect! I love you! Please don’t say mean things about the person I love so dearly!” I can remember my little body feeling the distress of loving someone so very much and watching them be harmed all at the same time. It felt awful!
As I recalled this memory, I realized that this is how I feel almost every day when I hear at least one woman in my life put herself down or blame herself in some way. These are some of the painful comments that I hear:
“I don’t have any motivation.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“I eat like a teenager, THAT’s my problem!”
“I wish I could be more…”
“I was SO bad yesterday…”
“I really should be doing more…”
“I can’t do that! People will think….”
“I feel so guilty that I took time for myself.”
"I'm so stupid, I can't make good decisions."
“I’m only a teacher, a mom, a writer, etc.….”
“There’s something wrong with me!”
Do any of these sound familiar? I didn’t want to overwhelm you with the very LONG list of ways women put themselves down that I have accumulated over the of years of working with women. But even outside my professional world, in my every day life, I hear amazing women, beat on themselves in some way. Every day. Throughout the day. And it just pains me.
When I introduce the practice of self-love and compassion I’m either met with “Yeah, but…” (some version of I don’t have time for this ‘woo woo’ stuff) OR I get looked at like I have 4 eyeballs. Why? Because for so many it’s a foreign language that is difficult to understand. It seems an even further stretch then, when I suggest that self-lovin’, as I term it, would have anything do with feeling successful both in your personal or professional life. I mean, how could that be?
When you speak to yourself with kindness and compassion, when you respond to yourself like you would a good friend, it gives you energy and helps you move through whatever you’re facing with more ease. When you can say to yourself something like, “Oops, I guess I screwed up but I’m still a good person. I’m a human and there’s nothing wrong with me”, as compared to what you typically might say to yourself: <insert comment from list above here.> When we are self-critical and unkind to ourselves, when we say things to ourselves that we wouldn’t say to other people, we slow ourselves down, we deplete ourselves. Our brain and nervous system begin to expend energy on negative thoughts and the uncomfortable feelings that come with those thoughts. We slip into rabbit holes, get all frozen up and stuck. Then, we beat ourselves up some more for not being motivated. What a cycle!
I will admit to you that when I first began researching self-compassion, I thought it would be a really great idea for my clients but when I tried to apply the concepts to myself it was not easy. I had believed so many negative things about myself for so long that considering being self-loving and compassionate felt a little foreign to me too. But it’s ok, you can move towards more self-lovin’ with a little bit of practice.
So how to get started?
1. Start with simple acts of self-lovin’
Dr. Kristen Neff, author of the book, Self-Compassion, The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, suggests that we begin with an intentional practice of saying kind things to ourselves when we begin our day. Look at yourself in the mirror and greet yourself with warmth and love. Often we’re on autopilot and we don’t even make eye contact with ourselves, our mind already on the day ahead. Instead, say something kind to yourself, like, “hey sweetie” and offer yourself some affection like a hand on your heart, or a rub of your arm. You wouldn’t skip over saying a former good morning to anyone else, why skip you?
2. Notice those yucky thoughts!
Are you talking to yourself like you would a good friend or someone you care about? If the answer is no, hit the reset button and change to self-lovin’ language. You’re the one you talk to the most. Can you see why it would be important to speak lovingly?! Take a deep breath and start over. Can you instead respond like you would to a good friend? Can you be your own good friend?
3. Acknowledge and embrace your humanity.
You’re perfectly imperfect. Sometimes we screw up and we have feelings about that. “I feel like a failure” is not a feeling. “I feel sad and hurt because…” keeps the focus on the feelings. It gives space for that experience and doesn’t let those yucky thoughts in. Recognize that because you’re a human you’re going to go through the normal ebbs and flows of life. Sometimes you’re going to be really up, and sometimes not so much, and everything in between. But how about if you offered yourself a little self-lovin’ in those moments of struggle and help yourself through it, rather than beating up on yourself or being unkind to YOU in any way?
Speaking to ourselves with nastiness and unkindness contributes to feeling stuck, feeling unsettled and unsatisfied. It weighs you down with heaviness and unnecessary suffering, It doesn't let you move in the direction you want to go and acts as an obstacle in your life. All this being said, it’s easy to see why self-lovin’ would be an important practice to grab on to.
When you practice self-lovin’ and treat yourself with the kindness and respect you would a good friend, you can move through life with more ease, with less sticking points, with less yucky baggage, and with a greater sense of overall life enjoyment. Why? Because you’re no longer wasting time and energy beating yourself up. Instead your energy is being used to help yourself move through life's ups and downs and to help you rise into a thriving and more fulfilled life.