Many of us show kindness and compassion towards others but are not so good at doing the same towards ourselves.
I recently conducted research into self-compassion amongst a group of professional women. Whilst they understood self-compassion was about being kind to themselves and they recognised it was beneficial, there wasn’t a lot of it happening!
What gets in the way of being kind to ourselves?
Those I spoke to talked about:
The need to put others first
Constantly striving for better
Feelings of low self-worth
Two of these come with a positive intention. I am not challenging wanting to help others or seeking to improve. However, when we take it too far, it becomes unhelpful.
Always putting others ahead of ourselves leaves us with depleted resources and then unable to look after others. You will probably have heard the phrase ‘put your oxygen mask on first’.
Seeking constant improvement is positive if we also acknowledge what we deliver is good. There is a big difference between a growth mindset and perfectionism.
Low self-worth is a complex issue. Many of us have limiting beliefs and these have a massive impact on our self-belief and sense of worth. These can be identified and addressed, although many will be deep-rooted.
I found it sad that women who were friendly, outwardly confident, and obviously competent (all had reached mid and senior level roles), were inadvertently holding themselves back, and experiencing the impact of these barriers on their overall health and wellbeing.
Upbringing, social pressures and expectations mean we tend to put others first. There is a fear that being kind to ourselves will seem selfish and indulgent; behaviours we feel guilty about demonstrating.
I have also often heard the concern that it could mean letting ourselves ‘off the hook’ when things go wrong rather than learning from mistakes. Research shows this isn’t the case.
The benefits of being kind to ourselves
If we need convincing, there is now a lot of evidence on the benefits of self-kindness in many areas of our lives.
It is a strong predictor of psychological wellbeing and is linked to a healthier approach to exercise and diet, suggesting self-kindness means looking after all of you.
The strongest evidence relates to stress, anxiety and depression. Self-criticism is strongly related to these illnesses.
Self-kindness has also been correlated with happiness, optimism, worrying less, reduced fear of failure and demanding less perfectionism.
Start being kinder to yourself
The evidence shows driving ourselves through self-judgement and self-criticism is flawed thinking.
Those that are compassionate towards themselves achieve more, but from a place of kindness and self-worth. A much more pleasant experience.
You can learn to be kinder to yourself and in turn start to experience the benefits. This quick practical exercise helps me recognise when I am not showing kindness towards myself.
When something doesn’t go to plan, for example, you forget something or make an error at work, notice how you talk to yourself. Notice the exact language you use.
Take the same scenario and consider how you would respond if a friend or colleague had the same issue. How would you respond to them? Notice the language you use.
Now, use this awareness to reframe how you talk to yourself, offering kindness rather than judgement. Recognise these things happen to people – it isn’t just you – and notice the emotion rather than getting swept up in it.
Try listening to this kinder voice. See and feel the difference it makes.
Marion Hewitt is one of our partner coaches. To find out more about working with Marion, visit her coach profile: www.careeringintomotherhood.com/marion-hewitt