Kindness Begins With … Who?

“Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”  (Parker Palmer)

Attribution: By zenera ( [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsI can’t effectively extend kindness to others or graciously receive kindness from them if I don’t have a solid relationship of kindness with one very important person: me.

Seems obvious, but how many of us are really pretty mean to that person we live and breathe with 24/7?  Sometimes we’re downright abusive; other times, we’re indifferent or neglectful.

I’m going to employ one of the most overworked analogies around—one we encounter every time we take to the friendly skies:  “Should there be a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead compartment … be sure to secure your own mask before assisting others.”

We’ve heard it a thousand times, not just from our amiable flight attendant, but it is part of the repertoire of every motivational speaker on the circuit.  Yes, it’s overworked and trite, but, as so many overworked and trite things are, it’s also true.

Think about it in its original and literal setting:  If you were a child or someone who might need assistance donning an oxygen mask, would you prefer to get that help from someone breathing calmly and offering the assurance that this is a minor inconvenience which we will handle together, or from a wild-eyed martyr who may pass out at any moment.  I’ll take the former, thank you.

And in more earthbound circumstances, I find it more pleasurable to receive a kindness from someone who is steady and self-assured than from someone whose attempt at kindness seems to be born more out of desperation or obligation than of genuine caring.  And I find it easier to extend kindness to someone who is able to receive, than to someone who can’t because they don’t feel worthy.

There is not a one-size-fits-all method of being kind to ourselves.  What works for some won’t for others.  Let’s explore just a few:

Knowing When to Say Yes to Saying No

Saying yes to our own lives sometimes means knowing how to say no to others.  When we give so much to others that we have nothing left to give ourselves, we must follow the advice of the Dalai Lama: “…for the sake of everyone … withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.”  Likewise, there are times when we need to speak a gentle “no” to ourselves, when we are poised to embark on a self-destructive action, or when we simply need permission to get off the merry-go-round.

Margot Silk Forrest, author of A Short Course in Kindness, offers a wonderful list of 42 ways to say no.  Here are just a few.  You’ll find the whole, handy list on her website:

  • I wish I could help you out, but I’m overextended/overcommitted right now.
  • Not in this lifetime!
  • The part that wants to make you happy wants to say yes, but the rest of me won the vote. I’ll pass.

Changing Our Self-Talk

How many of us say things to ourselves that we would never say to another human being?  We call ourselves stupid, clumsy, ugly, fat.  We criticize our slightest error.  We tell ourselves that we don’t deserve the good things that come our way, and that we do deserve the bad.  If we happen to look in the mirror and notice that the person looking back at us is looking pretty hot today, we immediately look for the flaw: check out that hair, brushed it with a cattle prod, did you?  We need to notice when we’re engaging in verbal self-abuse and change it on the spot:  Dahling, you look magnificent!  Come, let the world see how beautiful you are!

Finding Our Own Satisfaction Triggers

Everybody has different self-care activators, and they are as diverse as the population is: reading, exercise, bubble baths, being in nature, listening to music, writing, walking the dog or petting the cat, romance, travel, swimming, tennis, meditation, spending time with friends, spending time alone.  These are just a few.  What are your satisfaction triggers?  We all need to recognize the activities that replenish and re-energize us and then activate them with some frequency.  If we don’t take care of ourselves, who will?

Self-care and self-kindness is a big issue.  In the next post, we’ll look at a few more means of being kind to that VIP who is us, and we’ll talk about what gets in the way.  Please share your own ah-has and thoughts about self-kindness.  What happens when you don’t practice kindness with yourself?  What do you do to be kind to yourself?

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” (Dr. Seuss)

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