Why It’s So Hard to Be Kind to Ourselves
By Barbara Brennan
For most people, one of the enigmas of life is that we can show great kindness to others yet generally deny that same gift to ourselves.
Something that sounds so simple can prove to be extraordinarily difficult. The wounds of childhood that perpetuate a sense of being unworthy or undeserving conspire with shame, guilt, a lack of self-love, and other negative beliefs to prevent us from being genuinely kind to those who need it most—ourselves.
Consider what the result might be if we were to hold a survey among a cross-section of the public on what was more important—being kind to others or being kind to oneself. I would imagine that the vast majority of people, if not all, would put others first. In the world in which we live, there’s probably little wrong with that.
Few would realize that this is something of a trick question. That’s because our concept of kindness is usually quite limited. We tend to see kindness as acts that always involve third parties—to be given to them or by them. In the “real” world, the world of nonduality, there is no such separation. Kindness is a state of being that integrates not only body, mind, and soul but also our interaction with self and others, with all of life.
Let’s look at what real kindness is—and isn’t. It is not…caretaking, giving too much of ourselves so that we can feel better. If we consistently put the needs of others well before our own and believe it is right and proper to do so, if we cannot find a balance that accommodates both, the road to self-appreciation and authentic relationship may be long and arduous. Setting healthy boundaries is, in nonduality, actually an act of kindness to both parties.
Kindness is not self-sacrifice. Many of the religions of the world implore us to be “good” people. There is “Christian behavior” and the need to “turn the other cheek,” or the Buddhist concept of loving kindness. The ego often hijacks the original nondual teachings and separates them into what is “good” and “bad.” This leads to judgment, particularly self-judgment, pride, resentment, and all the usual suspects.
Nor is kindness genuine if there’s an agenda attached, such as hoping for something in return or even to score some brownie points on the karmic account.
So what is true kindness? It is a reflection of divine mercy, of divine love, the breath of our true nature expressed in an individual way, to be applied just as much to ourselves as to others.
Kindness is full of love. It is really clear when you are kind to yourself and when you are not, when you are kind to others and when you are not. When you are unkind, you have a sinking feeling of having done something “wrong.” You may not know exactly what it is but it is soon followed by a sense of shame and of separation. Self-kindness—or self-love—is, as I have said, very difficult to achieve. Why should that be? It all relates back to childhood wounds and how we came to regard ourselves when our needs were not met. These wounds are inescapable, no matter how aware our parents may be.
If an infant does not receive the love and attention it needs—or perceives it does not—it doesn’t blame the mother or father. Instead, the child believes that it must be unlovable or undeserving. It has no other way of understanding this deprivation.
These erroneous beliefs remain with us, a part of our consciousness that never matures without a lot of personal work. So not only do we find it hard to be kind to ourselves, but we can actively dislike or reject ourselves and often indulge in self-hatred.
The severity of these wounds and the recurring problems they generate throughout our lives stifle our creativity and intentionality.
Sadly, there is no simple solution. But awareness of our negative behavioral patterns, of how we diminish ourselves and fall into self-judgment and unkindness, is a good start, particularly if we allow our natural longing for wholeness to express itself.
How many times were you told as a child that “you should be ashamed of yourself”? Even a few times is too often. Such criticism becomes embedded and, as adults, we use it against ourselves.
Whenever you find yourself slipping into self-deprecation, stop for that moment and find some kind words of appreciation. Replace that judgment with sweet, soft words of self-love, with strong words of courage, with respectful words of recognition, with compassionate words of caring and closeness. In this way, you can begin to change the beliefs and patterns that have served you poorly in the past. You will experience kindness from a new perspective—not only for yourself, but for everyone in your life.