Imagine for a minute that your best friend, partner, parent or child had a horrific day. Maybe they made a mistake at work. Maybe they got very little sleep. Maybe stressors seem to be striking from every angle. Maybe they struggle with sadness or anxiety.
Either way, they’re devastated. What do you do?
No doubt you sprint to console them. You hug them, and ask them what they need. You listen, and empathize. You might even crack a joke just to make them smile.
Now how would you react if the person hurting were you? Would you acknowledge your pain, and figure out how to help yourself? Would you be just as kind and empathetic?
Because this is what self-kindness looks like, said Rosie Molinary, an author and educator who empowers women to embrace their authentic selves so they can live their passion and purpose and give their gifts to the world.
“Self-kindness is taking all those actions, all those reactions and applying them to yourself just as readily as you offer them to others.” It’s about acknowledging the difficulty of a situation, recognizing your efforts and soothing yourself, she said.
There’s a common misconception in our society that being kind to ourselves is weak and comes with grave consequences. Letting yourself off the hook will inevitably hinder your health, work and other parts of your life. So we hear.
But it’s actually the opposite. “When we embrace self-kindness, we want to offer ourselves better care. We get more sleep, offer our bodies more of the nutrients that it needs, wean some or most of our bad habits,” Molinary said.
Self-kindness also leads to self-acceptance and greater satisfaction. “When we lose our urgent need to denigrate and belittle ourselves, we open ourselves up to a more expansive way to experience life.”
Our society also assumes that self-kindness is selfish or self-indulgent. But self-kindness helps us give more and be kinder to others. For instance, Molinary said, it sustains our emotional reserve, so it “doesn’t empty out so quickly.”
Being Kinder to Yourself
When easing into self-kindness, Mara Glatzel, MSW, a coach who helps women live the lives they deserve, approached the process with an open mind. “My first objective in learning how to be kind to myself was to rid myself of any preconceived or judgmental notions about what kindness should look like.”
Kindness may look very different from person to person. Glatzel and Molinary interpret self-kindness with these seven strategies.
1. Give yourself the bare essentials.
For Glatzel, tending to her basic needs makes up the foundation of self-kindness. This includes “nourishing myself with delicious food, drinking enough water, moving my body with regularity, and getting enough sleep. Taking care of these needs allows me to bring energy and light to my life…”
2. Pay attention to your internal dialogue.
“Start paying careful attention to what you say and how you say it and take the time to always reframe what you say into something more positive, supportive, and true,” Molinary said. At first this might feel unnatural or uncomfortable. But keep at it. “You are learning a new language here and practicing will help you become fluent.”
3. Feel your feelings.
According to Glatzel, you need to give yourself permission to experience your emotions without punishing yourself. “It is important to show ourselves sweetness by feeling the full breadth of our emotions, without pouring a layer of judgment and disdain for ourselves over top.”
(Here are strategies to feel your feelings healthfully.)
4. Reframe challenges.
Many people equate a challenge with failure. Or they worry that a less-than-perfect performance diminishes their worth. But, as Molinary said, because there’s no such thing as perfection, imperfection can’t exist either. She encouraged readers to take a neutral stance. Reframe your challenge as information, which is neutral.
“By neutralizing what we feel so negatively about, we can increase our capacity for self-kindness. When we run into a challenge, we are not learning that we suck at something. We are actually learning that a particular task is lower on our list of talents than some other things,” Molinary said, adding that with this neutral information, you can then decide how you’d like to proceed.
5. Find solutions.
Instead of flogging yourself for facing a challenge, another valuable approach is to focus on finding a solution. According to Molinary, “After you have acknowledged the difficulty of the situation that you are in, choose a solution and move toward it. You are offering yourself something you need while building your confidence in your abilities.”
6. Lower your expectations.
Temper sky-high “shoulds” when you’re heading into potentially stressful or overwhelming situations, Glatzel said. This is especially important for holidays and other circumstances that seem to spark excessive expectations. “[Lowering our expectations] allows us an increased chance of being able to tolerate experiences that don’t turn out the way that we’d like or think they should.”
7. Start now.
You might find it tough to figure out when or how to start being kinder to yourself, especially because it can seem like a nebulous concept or too big a mountain to climb. Glatzel suggested starting right now by tuning into your body.
“How do you feel? What do you need? How might you work, in this moment, to move forward with your best interest at heart? You, better than anyone else, will know how to best show yourself the kindness that you’re yearning for.”
Being gentle with yourself may not come naturally. But anything worthwhile often takes some work. “If you want a life that feels pleasurable and purposeful, is fueled by passion and isn’t distracted by inexorable fear, one of the most important steps you can take is embracing the idea of self-kindness,” Molinary said.