Kindness Begins With … Who, Me?

“Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.” (Christopher Germer)

Attribution: Donna CameronIn the previous post, we talked about the need to be kind to ourselves if we are going to be able to give genuine kindness to others and to receive kindnesses.  The challenge is to feel worthy and not to listen to that voice—ours now, but probably once that of a parent or teacher—who says putting ourselves first is always selfish.

Selfish and unselfish is a polarity we must manage, recognizing that there are times when our need is greater and other times when someone else must come first, and still other times when putting someone else’s need above our own is our greatest need.

“Self-care” is not a term that will mean the same thing for everyone.  It’s also a term that can get a bad rap.  For some, self-care may be analogous to selfishness, or self-absorption, and taken to an extreme, like anything else, it ceases to serve us.  It’s no fun spending time with someone who has nothing of interest to talk about but herself, or anyone above the age of eight who still believes that the universe revolves entirely around him.  Yet, those people are all around us and they are as exhausting as they are unwelcome.  We can’t change them, but as a gesture of kindness to ourselves, we can limit the time we have to spend with them.

Let’s look at a few more methods we humans have devised for being kind to ourselves:

Recognizing Boundaries 

I look at boundaries as something like values.  My friend Lynn describes values as “decisions we make in advance” and I think boundaries are much the same.  They are the demarcation of what I will and will not do, and what I will and will not allow as I interact with others.  They are both external and internal.  External boundaries protect us from invasions of our space, our emotions and beliefs, and even our possessions.  Internal boundaries help us manage our time, our emotions, and our impulses.  Without a sense of our own boundaries we can deplete ourselves by trying excessively to please, serve or fix, by tolerating abuse, byaccepting criticism without evaluating it, by overscheduling our lives ‘til we reach exhaustion, or by taking on other people’s baggage.  Learning to both establish and hold to our boundaries is a big element of self-kindness.


As someone who has done her share of stupid and thoughtless things, I have finally learned that continuing to carry them around with me in the form of regrets and self-recriminations serves no one … and it’s a dreadfully heavy weight.  That doesn’t mean ignoring them, but rather learning from them, forgiving myself, and letting them go.  There is a quote of unknown origin that says it well: Your past mistakes are meant to guide you, not define you.

Small Indulgences

Somewhat related to the satisfaction triggers we talked about earlier, “small indulgences” is a term I first heard from trend-watcher Faith Popcorn.  She was referring to the tiny “affordable luxuries” that we allow ourselves—they don’t break the budget and they offer a quick and easy respite from stress.  In the commercial world, Starbucks is the embodiment of a source for small indulgences, having convinced us that the answer to our immediate need is a caramel macchiato, a chai tea, or simply a good cup of Ethiopian blend.  But we can find small indulgences all around us: a piece of dark, artisan chocolate … a magazine we enjoy but don’t usually spend five dollars to buy … a visit to a museum or library … a massage … just about anything by a couple of guys named Ben and Jerry … or maybe it’s buying that new bestseller we’ve been wanting to read, rather than waiting months to get it from the library.

The barriers that prevent us from being kind to ourselves are generally the same obstacles that keep us from being kind to others: time, fear, fatigue, apathy, obliviousness….  We’ll be exploring some of these in upcoming posts.

If we are to have a long-term perspective on compassion, as the Dalai Lama encourages, that means recognizing that kindness begins with self and radiates outward.  Unless we replenish ourselves periodically, we cannot offer our gifts to others and to a universe that is in dire need of our kindness.

What’s the kindest thing you could do for yourself right this minute?  What’s stopping you?

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”  (Anna Quindlen)