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Loving yourself unconditionally for who and what you are right now is an essential component to living a life of radical kindness. Self-love can be a huge scary topic for many of us, one that can feel vast and overwhelming. “How can I love myself?” you might ask. “Where do I start? I can’t even stick to an exercise program or keep up with the laundry!”
Self-love starts with self-acceptance. Like so many of us, as you grew up you learned to constantly focus on problems, on what’s wrong.
Did you feel ashamed if you got a test question wrong in school? When you look at your reflection in the mirror, do you focus on that one pimple or those few wrinkles? Overall your meal tasted great, except that the pasta was a little overcooked. You do well at your job, but what sticks in your head is the one report your boss criticized. Our whole society is set up this way. Just listen to the evening news for five minutes. On second thought, don’t.
As the search for problems goes on and on, who’s the person you criticize most? Yourself. There in the privacy of your own mind, you berate yourself endlessly for your perceived flaws and mistakes. You feel bad about the few things you didn’t accomplish in a day, rather than satisfied with the zillion things you actually did.
Self-criticism has become a habit. The good news is that habits can be changed.
Rather than leaping right into the deep end of unconditional self-love, try sticking your toe into the inviting waters of self-acceptance. Cultivating the habit of self-acceptance is a matter of practice. You really can learn to be kind to yourself. You can take these simple actions each day to start your kindness practice.
Get mindful. First, tune in and notice what your inner monologue sounds like. Ask yourself, “What if someone else was treating me this way?” When I first started working with self-acceptance, I was a bit shocked when I posed this question. If my partner or close friend spoke to me the way I spoke to myself, we’d have a serious discussion or I’d be right out the door.
Watch out for the double-negative. When you notice you’re being unkind inside your own mind, you may feel guilty or upset. Scolding yourself for your self-criticism perpetuates the cycle. Instead, take a few deep breaths and resolve to do better. Knowing is half the battle. Stop the snowball effect as soon as you can.
Compliment yourself on purpose. Sure, it may feel really hokey at first. But when self-criticism arises, intentionally replace it with a few kind words. If you can’t believe you let the kitchen get this messy, recall the delicious meal you made last night and how much your family enjoyed it. Compliment yourself for the little things and the big things. You’re changing your inner mindset! Your commitment to self-growth rocks!
Notice your weak spots. All of us have areas where we are especially sensitive. You may be an inspired artist and a loving parent, yet you wish you were thinner, or taller, or prettier. You might love your physical body and your caring generosity, but hate that you never finished college. Hold yourself gently in those areas you consider your biggest flaws. Discover hidden treasures there: your strong muscles and dimpled smile, or the way you think outside the box.
Take yourself less seriously. If you take everything you say to yourself as gospel, it’ll drive you nuts. A sense of humor is a big help. Sometimes I find myself in the midst of an inner rant where my whole day is ruined because I didn’t do thus-and-such, and I just start to laugh. Our inner critics can be so melodramatic! Laugh and let it go.
Be patient with your new practice of self-acceptance. You might feel like you’re traveling in circles, but changing an ingrained habit takes time. And with more practice, you’ll get better and better at being kind to yourself.
Continually practicing radical self-acceptance will change the way you inhabit the world. Your energy system will shift as you learn to treat yourself more kindly. You’ll be more centered and less frantic. You’ll know that no matter how much you do or don’t do, no matter how many times you try and fail, you’re already essentially a good person. Your deep inner change will ripple outward into the world. Others will notice this change and they might ask you what’s different. Without intending to, you’ll become a role model for others who wish to be more kind to themselves.
Your radical self-acceptance will gradually become unconditional self-love, and from that space of deep inner grounding, you’ll be ready to spread radical kindness throughout the cosmos.
|Nikki Starcat Shields is a published author, Mom, Reiki healer, and licensed priestess. She blogs at Starcat’s Corner and shares her callings at Feline Dreamers. Get your copy of her book “Cultivating Self-Love: Your Path to Wholeness” on Amazon.|