“Who were you kind to today?”
“Myself” I replied, and it was met with a wave of guilt as I said the words. Why have we so long mixed-up self-care and self-kindness with being selfish, self-centred and with narcissism. This is not accurate or fair. But then, I am well versed in negative self-talk, in talking to myself in such a way that is not kind or helpful or fair. In ways I would never talk to others. So why do we accept it in ourselves I wonder?
For some reason it has always made sense to see myself as less then, or to assume blame for any given situation. The most important lesson my fight with my mental health taught me was to try and meet a negative emotion: my sadness, my emptiness, my anxiety or whatever is, with a different question to the ones I had been asking. The one I trained my neural pathways in: that if I feel this, it must be my fault, I am to blame, I am worthless. Which led to spiral deeper into those negative plains. Instead, I started meeting these feelings with what can I change to start helping myself. Am I anxious because I am asking too much of myself? If this is how I feel, perhaps I need to take some time for myself?
These seemed out of place. It seemed unspeakably selfish to start asking myself, in this moment: what do I need? But it helped, it helped because it reminded me to take steps as I went on; to adjust, to listen to myself. To ignore those signs, I knew was to take a left turn down a dark and dangerous road, because looking back before bouts of depression, there was those vague memories of ignoring those signs, of ignoring myself.
So, I reiterate, be kind to yourself first of all.
What did I learn about being kind to myself?
What was most amazing about this though, was it actually helped me be kinder to others. It is not a quid per quo. There’s not a finite amount of kindness you have in yourself to give, if you give kindness to yourself then there is more to share with others. I think in part, because I empathised more.
I thought about what I needed when I felt certain ways. That when I felt low or anxious, I wanted someone to see me, to hear me, to recognise and hold my pain, just to be there. So, the desire to do that for someone else simply increased.
So, kindness to others and kindness to ourselves are intertwined. Being kinder to others in turn, gave me purpose and growth. Those things that I had learnt long ago were the key to life. But I did it my way. I was kind to other using things that meant something to me, using my voice, and my experiences, and my talents.
I cannot give you a definitive list of things to do for others, or to do for yourself. We all share some idea about what kindness means and what it might look like. But what works for you, what is your go-to self-care and how and who you help is specific to you.
But what I would say is this: listen to yourself and listen to others, and the kindness you have in you will take shape.
This blog was written by Dorset Mind Your Head ambassador Alice Billington.