Because I know you already do your best to be kind to those around you.
As with any marginalized identity, extending kindness to others is hammered into you from day one. Of course it’s basic human decency, but for you, it’s also a mechanism to survive white supremacy and heteropatriarchy. Being kind to yourself though?
It’s one of those hippy-dippy, yoga pant-wearing, rich, white people things, right? It doesn’t have to be.
There’s no limit and you have every right to them. In fact, it’s not just a right, it’s a necessity.
If all these years of working with women, the queer community, and folks of color has taught me anything, it’s that inner criticism and harshness is how many of us have learned to operate. You’ve probably learned that this is how you motivate yourself to be productive, work, pay the bills, and get by in this dog-eat-dog world. If you mess up or fall down, you get right back up, dust yourself off, and kick your own ass to move forward.
While this can be and is effective - I’m sure you can give plenty of examples in your own life - it’s not actually as effective as being kind to yourself.
Yes, you read that right:
I can hear the sighs and eye rolls. I understand, I felt that way for the longest time! That is, until I realized that self-criticism as a motivator is just a big lie told to me over and over again. Think about it: what it would mean for the powers-at-be (aka these oppressive systems that control much of the financial, political, and social power in this world) if those of us who don’t have their kind of privilege were to start extending kindness inwards, not just outwards?
It would mean you’d start taking breaks because you realize how exhausted and burnt out you are just trying to keep up with it all. It’d mean you think about what you want versus what everyone else wants for you. It would mean, dare I say it, taking care of yourself.
Having a group of people rested, clear-minded, and prioritizing their own health and needs could do a lot of damage to those powerful systems. So, we’re told to not be so soft, selfish, and lazy. This mentality gets internalized and we talk to ourselves in a not-so-kind way.
Now that we’ve deconstructed where the lie of self-criticism comes from, let's ask the big question:
The answer is two-parts:
1) it allows us to listen to ourselves and our bodies and
2) we become focused on what we are truly looking for.
Just like I said above, showing yourself kindness will inherently make you slow down and listen to your body and mind. For example, a typical way of responding to missing a work deadline might be to curse at and get frustrated with yourself. Responding with kindness, however, means telling yourself it makes sense. I mean, think about your workload, everything going on in your life, your work environment - is it possible any of these things contributed to you missing the deadline? If it feels more internal like depression or anxiety, that’s nothing to be critical about either and I’m positive by looking at your history and experiences, makes sense as well.
Let’s be clear that this is not “making an excuse,” this is looking at real internal and external circumstances and making sense of what led up to that missed work deadline. Making an excuse is reaching for something that’s not there and making no changes afterward.
If it’s external, maybe it’s time to talk to your boss about your workload. If it’s internal, maybe it’s time to share with someone, whether a therapist or a friend.
Once you’ve extended that kindness and stopped being so damn hard on yourself, you also gain clarity about what it is you need and want. This lets you focus and prioritize on whatever it is YOU are working towards, whether it’s school, work, health, you name it. That’s where the efficiency comes in.
So whether you like to set resolutions or not, make a decision to be kinder to yourself this year. Let this year be the groundwork for a life of self-compassion and kindness. It doesn’t mean it’ll always 100% be there and that you have to be perfect at it. Don’t put that kind of pressure on it (after all, you want to be kind about extending kindness to yourself!) It means you’ll catch yourself being harsh and redirect to compassion and kindness.
Want to learn more about being kind and compassionate to yourself? Schedule a consultation to learn about compassion-focused therapy and yoga.