You’re human, which means you have felt shame at some point in your life. Maybe you have obsessed about something you said to someone that didn’t come out the way you had hoped. Perhaps you have felt embarrassed upon turning in a paper and realizing you left a large grammatical error. In our busy, decision-filled lives, it is all too easy to critique ourselves in our heads, with no one else to hear or help us shift our thoughts. That said, how you treat yourself every day matters as much as the way you treat others.
Self-kindness is one of the main components of a beneficial quality called self-compassion. Self-kindness has been studied in-depth by Kristin Neff, a researcher and associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Neff defines self-kindness as acknowledging one’s own setbacks or pain that they may be experiencing with care and self-comprehension. People who practice self-kindness, “tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences, rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals," according to Neff. Neff and other researchers have found a variety of benefits to practicing self-kindness.
Practicing self-kindness improves one’s health. Individuals with greater amounts of self-kindness typically have a lower bodily response to stress than those with lower amounts of these traits, according to a Washington Post article by Carrie Dennett. People who practice self-kindness do not ruminate as much on prior events that brought them stress, which contributes to their lesser physical reaction to experiences which induce stress. This bodily response to stress has a direct impact on health, Dennett writes, as heightened physical reactions to stress are associated with negative health effects, including effects on a person’s blood sugar, blood pressure, and immune system. According to both Neff and Dennett, people who experience heightened bodily reactions to stress have a higher chance of engaging in damaging habits such as smoking, binge drinking or overeating as a means of curbing their anxiety.
Studies have shown that people with high levels of self-kindness are often more inclined to participate in and continue healthy practices such as “(sticking) to a diet, stop(ping) smoking, and (finding) intrinsic motivation to exercise for fun," according to a Better Humans article.
Increased self-kindness heightens one’s resilience. People who are kind to themselves have a greater chance of developing optimistic responses to events, writes Dennett. These developed responses can increase one’s ability to bounce back after an undesired event, as one chooses to care for themselves rather than get completely thrown by things that happen to them.
There are many positive effects of being kind to ourselves, but how can we increase this skill? Enhancing our self-kindness can be accomplished by changing our personal narrative. Instead of telling yourself “I failed" after receiving a less-than-stellar grade or stern feedback from a boss, consider switching your dialogue. Try saying to yourself, “I am okay. I survived that experience, and I can learn from the parts that were painful. I am smart and capable, and I will be alright."
Overall, we tend to be incredibly kind to our friends, quick to offer them advice when they are feeling down. Why should we treat ourselves any differently? Try stepping up for yourself by treating yourself gently and with care. You will soon reap the positive effects on your health and success by doing so.