Kindness is an integral part of happiness with which we reach out from our little world into the vast universe of interconnectedness. All major religions advise us to practice kindness. It even makes sense from a biological point of view as human beings thrive on cooperation and suffer greatly when ostracized. The subject of kindness becomes a bit more controversial when people are expected to only give, serve and smile, regardless of exploitative circumstances or their authentic feelings.
For most people kindness may be the answer. We must be kinder to people with whom we disagree, to distressed people and so perceived outsiders as well as to the entire battered biosphere of planet Earth. But for those who tend to be kind at their own expense, the suggestion to cultivate kindness can be most hollow and depressing. Women often fall into this group. From childhood on they learn that love and attention come their way only when they please others. While this is changing slowly in the western world, women still must to be careful not to appear too aggressive when expressing their opinions and self-interest. In addition, all men and women who feel compelled to save others may worsen when told to focus on kindness alone.
As a psychotherapist, I have met many clients who feel trapped in their identity as the “good girl” or “Mr. or Ms. Nice.” It is therefore most refreshing to meet someone who has broken out of this particular prison. I am not thinking of people who give relief to others by disregarding all good manners and who gain popularity by abandoning “political correctness.” This can be hilarious in the world of comedy, but sickening everywhere else. Instead I am thinking about a woman I recently had the pleasure to interview on the subject. Her name is Joanna, a sixty-one-year young, petite website designer who has long, silver hair and a soft, reassuring voice. At the risk of awakening her wrath upon reading this, she reminds me of a wise woman I am supposed to imagine in one of these guided meditations. She is one of the kindest people I know.
Here we were, sitting in a café, sipping tea when I asked what she would do when confronted with a person who regularly zaps her energy. I gave her two examples of my private life: a man who cannot stop sharing anecdotes and never asks about me and a woman who whines incessantly about the same problem which she has sworn not to solve in this life time. It’s all karma, she insists. I expected compassionate understanding from Joanna, but she looked at me almost sternly,
“I am done with that. To be honest, I am barely cordial with energy vampires.” She held her hand up as if to wall off a potential vampire right at that table.
“When I was younger,” she continued “I had no boundaries, apologized often, and gave my energy, time and focus to things that did not involve me, but into which people sucked me. At some point I thought to myself that I am not nice anymore. But then again, I go out of my way to make life easier for people and would never be impolite when people are in real need. The difference is that I am kind to myself as well now and unwilling to be drained for no good reason.”
I was impressed and felt invigorated. We continued to pinpoint what it took to develop such a dedicated love relationship with oneself and to buffer off the takers of the world. Here are three insights that we found to be helpful:
ONE: GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION
While it is good to hear from others that kindness to self is okay and even a sacred responsibility for all adults, we need to give ourselves permission and make a conscious choice to practice it.
TWO: FIND PERSPECTIVE
Understand that you are not bad for finding some people lovable and others not so much. Imagine people as orbiting planets around your inner light. There are all part of your solar system, but some are in the inner circles and others are farther away. Sometimes a close planet starts to collide with you and needs to be pushed out. That’s life.
THREE: BECOME AWARE OF YOUR FEAR OF JUDGMENT
What stops us to practice kindness to self is often the fear to be judged and ultimately to be ostracized. To contain your fear, acknowledge your base of supportive people in your life. Realize how you are safely connected and in the position to say “No” to those who are not supportive. You can afford to let people go when you are aware of your connections.
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© 2018 Andrea F. Polard, PsyD. All Rights Reserved.