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Treating ourselves kindly and compassionately


Published: Aug 09, 2013

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Many of us do not have a positive relationship with ourselves. Some of us even feel that there is nothing okay with us. We treat ourselves based on our feelings. And many times, the way we feel about ourselves comes from what others say and think of us. We absorb these views, and they become a part of how we perceive who we are. We then feel sorry for ourselves unnecessarily, and so reinforce a negative profile of ourselves. We could develop psychological problems as a result, such as feelings of being unworthy, and of not being good at anything.

This is not mentally healthy. But there is a way to deal with this positively, and it simply means treating ourselves kindly, and compassionately, and not being harsh, or too hard on ourselves.

This idea of being good to ourselves is dealt with by Juliana Breines, a doctoral candidate in social and personality psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. She recently published an article called “How To Be Good To Yourself”. She begins it by asking her readers to imagine they just made a costly mistake at work, and asks how they would react. She suggests many people would initially chastise themselves verbally for the error they made. But notes that self-criticism in small doses has its place, in encouraging us to take responsibility and make amends. She adds, though, that excessive self-criticism can be self-defeating.

The writer mentions another psychologist who advises that more attention should be paid to self-compassion, which is a way of treating ourselves with kindness and understanding, rather than harsh self-judgment, since self-compassion contributes to personal wellbeing and mental health. She then mentions a few approaches to increasing self-compassion. The first is adopting the perspective of someone who cares about you, since it is often easier to be compassionate towards someone else than ourselves.

Next, mentioning another psychologist, she recommends drawing comfort from a person or spiritual being who is unconditionally loving, having the qualities of a caregiver, or generating images of warmth and directing them to yourself. The final approach is to recognize that when others make mistakes, they often seem more human and accessible. They then make us feel it’s okay to be imperfect. So if you should make a blunder it allows others to let their guard down, since mistakes make us human.

I find this a fascinating piece of inspiration, which impacts on our own self-development and sense of who we are. It is indeed true that if we should make a mistake at work, we feel we have failed and proceed to chastise ourselves in a bad way. We almost feel a sense of being unfit. And, as the writer says, although self-criticism in a limited way helps us to be more responsible, done in excess it could defeat the purpose of it. We therefore have to measure carefully our response to any situation where we feel we were not at our best, and manage our response in such a way that we benefit positively, rather than put ourselves down further. To do this, we have to treat ourselves more kindly and in a caring way, and recognize that mistakes are not intentional, but provide an opportunity to learn further and avoid such situations in the future.

Having a sense of self-compassion and self-understanding will enable us to see ourselves and what we do positively, and with a loving perspective. We will be non-judgmental and non-hostile towards ourselves, and deal with ourselves in a tender and kind-hearted way. When this happens, we gain clarity of thought and response, and recognize that we can permit ourselves to do anything we want, using wisdom and the knowledge of who we are and what we want to achieve, without any expense to someone else.

And when we practice active self-belief, treating ourselves in the most desirable of ways becomes a habit. And, as the psychologist says, self-compassion contributes to personal wellbeing, and enriches our mental health. And I would add, it frames who we are, creates a softening of our attitude towards ourselves, and this breeds self-respect as well as self-admiration.

And what about the approaches to enhancing self-compassion? The first is taking on the view of the person who cares about us. This is to help those persons who have difficulty generating self-compassion, so it is suggested they empathize with the attitude of a compassionate person, putting themselves in his or her shoes so that the positive feelings from the other person, inhabit the psyche of the one that cannot generate a sense of self-compassion, since they find it easier being compassionate towards someone else, than towards themselves. There is then a transferring of dispositions, in a psychological sense. The person then develops a feeling of kindness and understanding towards himself, or herself.

The next approach to enhancing self-compassion is to draw comfort from a person or spiritual being who loves without any conditions. This spiritual being is often referred to as our Source, our Maker, and God. Whenever we feel we have had too much and things are against us, we approach our Creator through prayer and silence, requesting intervention to solve issues and bring our minds back on track. After each intercession, we experience a sense of joy, calm, delight and tranquility. We feel differently towards ourselves and others and have within us the desire to show mercy, caring, compassion and helpfulness. We then treat ourselves kindly and with respect, and from this a new and transformed person emerges. We gather additional strength and energy, which translates into greater self-recognition, self-awareness and self-support. Our minds are then renewed, and compassion and kindness towards ourselves replace doubt and disbelief.

The final approach is to recognize that when others make mistakes, they make us feel it’s okay to be imperfect. When we see how others react to mistakes, they do not experience guilt or feel a sense of failure. They know that stuff happens, and they move on, using their experiences to develop coping strategies for later events. When we see this, because we treat ourselves kindly and with compassion, and value ourselves highly, we do not see a mistake as a deficit but as part of our existence. And we can deal with it successfully because we think highly of ourselves and value ourselves completely. Treating ourselves kindly and with compassion is solid insurance against anything negative or belittling.

We as precious human beings should walk in our different worlds with pride, confidence and a sense of certainty. We should always want the best for ourselves and we can have it. The world belongs to us, and was created for us to partake of. We should therefore endeavor to show and teach the world what it is to be kind-hearted, gentle and show tenderness towards each other. And this comes from us treating our own selves with kindness and compassion.

When everyone has these values we regulate our behaviors properly, treat each other decently, deal with each other in a non-judgmental way and never show hostility. We foster a sense of gratitude among ourselves, are without blame, and so create the kind of country with noble values and citizens with a sense of honor, who are privileged to be human beings.


• Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. Published with the permission of caribbeannewsnow.com.

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