What It Really Means To Be Kind To Yourself

Kindness is one of life’s most valuable components.

In fact, novelist Henry James said:

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.

It could hardly be more clear.

Most people readily agree that kindness adds quality to life.

Whenever we’re on the receiving end of kindness, we feel better about life.

We appreciate kindness. We welcome kindness. We value kindness.

But seemingly less apparent to most of us is the importance of self-kindness.

While we see the value of kindness toward others, and appreciate kindness toward us by others, we often overlook the place of self-kindness.

We tend to dismiss the value and healing quality of kindness directed toward ourselves.

Novelist Jack Kornfield said:

If your compassion does not include yourself, it is not complete.

In other words, it’s not enough to be kind to others. It’s not enough to accept kindness from others. We must also be careful to express kindness to ourselves.

So what does it really mean to be kind to ourselves?

It means accepting that you have only one body and one mind.

We’ve been given only one body and one mind.

We can’t replace our mind and body like a set of dead batteries.

We can’t order a new body or new mind when the old one wears out or becomes defective.

We must nurture the mind and body we have – we won’t be getting replacements.

This alone justifies self-kindness.

If we fail to experience kindness for long periods of time, we will pay a high price for its absence.

We cannot always count on kindness from others. But we can always count on self-kindness.

We just need to make it a priority.

Some will argue this is just a veiled form of narcissism. Or disguised self-absorption. Or self-centeredness.

It is not.

These are examples of self-kindness out of balance.

Our lives don’t revolve around self-kindness. Though self-kindness should be an important part of them.

Just as we eat to live… we don’t live to eat.

Just as we sleep to live… we don’t live to sleep.

The key is finding a balance.

Self-kindness is an important part of healthy living that should be incorporated into the rhythm of life.

Without it, we will sooner or later pay a price.

It means understanding that we give best out of our own wholeness.

In order to effectively serve others, we must be whole ourselves.

We give best out of our strength, not out of our weakness.

Whenever you fly on a commercial airplane, at some point a flight attendant will ask for your attention as they review the safety rules.

They’ll explain the procedure when there’s a loss in cabin pressure. An oxygen mask will drop from the ceiling. They always emphasize that parents traveling with children should administer the oxygen to themselves first.

Only after they’ve received a healthy dose of oxygen should they apply the mask to their children.

The principle is obvious. Until the parent is sufficiently strong themselves, they’ll be in no condition to help their children.

We best give out of our own wholeness. We best serve out of our own strength.

It means recognizing that self-kindness includes self-care.

We show kindness to ourselves by exercising disciplined health habits.

We show unkindness to ourselves when we neglect the habits that promote good health.

These things are not luxuries or forms of pampering. They’re important elements of sound health.

Some of them include:

  • Proper rest and restorative sleep
  • Exercise that promotes cardiovascular health and muscular strength and flexibility
  • Drinking enough water to stay properly hydrated
  • Seeking timely professional help when health issues arise
  • Properly managing life’s stresses and challenges
  • Maintaining healthy and nurturing relationships
  • Regular times of meaningful reflection
  • Purposeful and periodic abstinence from media

An important component of self-kindness is self-care.

Unless we’re infirm, it’s our responsibility to take proper care of ourselves.

Self-care is not an indulgence. It’s a form of self-kindness that should not be neglected.

It means knowing that self-kindness is good practice for kindness to others.

Self-kindness is excellent practice for being kind to others.

It’s probable that what seems kind to yourself will also be an expression of kindness to others.

Thus, being kind to yourself is good training for showing kindness to others.

If, as Henry James said, the three things in human life that are important are kindness… kindness… and kindness, then we do well when we know what makes for kindness.

We can learn a lot through self-kindness.

How does it feel when you take a much-needed rest?

How do you think someone else would feel if you allowed them to take a much-needed rest?

How does it feel when you say something to yourself that’s encouraging and affirming?

How do you think someone else would feel if you spoke words of encouragement and affirmation to them?

The chances are good that if a kindness works for you, it will work for someone else.

It means appreciating the Golden Rule in reverse.

We all know the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

But consider the reverse of this rule.

What if we practiced doing unto ourselves what we would have others do unto us?

When someone extends a kindness to us, we notice. And it makes a difference in how we feel and how we view life.

Sometimes a simple kindness can literally transform our day. Just as an act of unkindness can ruin it.

So when someone does an act of kindness for you, think how it can be translated into an act of self-kindness.

Then, the next time you’re in need of a little kindness, offer it up to yourself.

It’s just another way to be kind to yourself in a way you know is effective.

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It means understanding that self-kindness includes regular maintenance, not just crisis care.

There’s an old expression that says: Pay me now or pay me later.

The idea is that when things are neglected, you end up paying the price eventually.

Whether it’s bald tires, a rusty door hinge, a neglected persistent cough, or a duty procrastinated for too long.

All of these things will eventually require payment.

The secret is to tend to them in the short term rather than neglect them for the long term.

Don’t put off rest until you get sick.

Don’t neglect your own restorative time until damage is done.

Don’t delay recreation until everything is completed.

It’s rest along the way that keeps you motivated.

Don’t refuse self-kindness until you must pay a price for your neglect.

Show kindness to yourself NOW.

Stop and rest. Eat a healthy meal. Go to bed early. Take a hot bath. Go for a leisurely walk. Have a cup of coffee when you have a mountain of work ahead. The mountain will wait for you.

If we refuse to take time for health now, we will be forced to take time for illness later.

Human beings are not machines. We tire. We wear out. We get sick. We need rest. We need kindness from without. We need kindness from within.

It’s a matter of regularly showing yourself kindness. Not just when you’re desperately in need of it.

It means taking pride without being prideful.

Along the way, we’ve been told that self-aggrandizement is ugly. That self-serving is inappropriate. That we should let others praise us, and not praise ourselves.

All of this is generally true.

Conceit and self-promotion are not virtues. We tend to avoid people who lead their own parade and sing their own praises above everyone else’s.

But again, we’re talking about an imbalance.

There’s an appropriate place for honest and objective self-assessment.

We should be able to say to ourselves that we did a job well. That our performance was good. That our results were excellent.

It’s okay to congratulate ourselves. It’s fine to accurately assess our own contribution. There’s nothing wrong with commending ourselves for a job well done.

We can take pride in ourselves and in what we accomplish without being prideful.

It’s only prideful when we begin to believe that we’re better than everyone else.

Self-kindness calls us to honestly appraise ourselves. To commend ourselves where it’s warranted.

Or to simply say to ourselves, “I could have done better on that. I’ll do better next time.”

We can take pride without being prideful.

It means realizing that kindness to ourselves ensures we’ll be available for others.

We’ve already looked at the value of giving out of our wholeness and strength rather than out of our weakness.

On a related note, when we show kindness to ourselves, we’re more likely to be available for others.

Kindness to ourselves is good for us. It helps us maintain our strength and balance.

Which equips us for helping others and extending kindness beyond ourselves.

If we’re exhausted, weak, unhealthy, and broken, we have our hands full just facing the day-to-day.

Self-kindness is not the be-all and end-all. But it does play an important role in our overall wellness and ability to give.

It means knowing that being kind to yourself last is not helpful.

Those who lean toward martyrdom and self-denial often end up as those least capable of extending kindness.

Their own well runs dry, and they have no water to offer others who are thirsty.

It’s been said that “perfection is not heroism.”

Though some people feel that it is. That if they aren’t perfect, they’re a failure.

So they constantly deny themselves the kindness they need, believing that self-kindness is a luxury they cannot afford.

That self-kindness is for wimps. Meant only for those unfit for the task.

Such people tend to burn out.

They often become bitter and resentful. But their bitterness and resentment are self-induced. Nobody required their perfection but themselves.

But in their pursuit of perfection, they lose their humanity. They lose sight of the fact that it’s their imperfection that makes them like the rest of us.

We are all flawed in some way to some degree. Recognizing that we’re imperfect and need not strive for perfection may encourage us toward self-kindness.

We all need self-kindness. We all benefit from self-kindness. We don’t need to “earn” it.

It’s our right by virtue of being human. We shouldn’t have to fight for kindness from others. Nor do we need to earn it for ourselves.

Conclusion

We should all learn to be kind to ourselves, just as we should learn to be kind to others.

We need kindness as much as anyone else. Being kind to ourselves ensures that we get our needed dose.

We cannot control the kindness of others toward us. But we can control the kindness we offer ourselves.

  • You have only one body and one mind. Being kind to yourself helps keep both mind and body strong and healthy.
  • We give best out of our wholeness. Those best equipped to be kind to others are those who are kind to themselves.
  • Self-kindness includes self-care. Being kind to ourselves involves doing the things that promote our own well-being.
  • Being kind to ourselves is good training for being kind to others.
  • Living out the Golden Rule in reverse is helpful. By doing unto yourself what you would have others do unto you.
  • Self-care should not be limited to crises – we should practice it routinely.
  • Self-kindness allows us to take pride in what we accomplish and in who we are without being arrogant or prideful.
  • Being kind to yourself will make you more available for being kind to others.
  • Being kind to yourself last isn’t helpful. Don’t play the martyr. Don’t play the victim. Be kind to yourself too. You deserve your own kindness.

About Author

I was born and raised in northern Virginia near Washington, D.C. My dream as a child was to play professional baseball. I made it as far as a baseball scholarship to a Division 1 college. I’m a teacher at heart, and love to teach anything and anybody who wants to learn. I started out as a public school teacher. But within a few years, felt called to the ministry, where I spent 32 years as a pastor. I love the outdoors. I love to read. I love people. I love to learn. I try to take a long walk every day year-round. I’ve done that for more than 40 years. It’s where I do some of my best thinking. It also clears the cobwebs from my head and the nonsense that tries to take root there. My blog is Quotation Celebration, where I discuss the meaning and lessons contained within great quotes.