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8 Ways We Can Be Kinder to Ourselves

Written by Adiemus Seah, Australia

Adiemus (BBSC, BACC, MGPC, MAPP) is passionate about helping people achieve goals and enhance wellbeing. He is the founder and director of Strengths Optimizer, and has worked as a registered counsellor, certified strengths coach, and accredited mental health first aid instructor for twenty years. He is the host and producer of the YouTube series, Science UP Your Wellbeing.

 

We are often our harshest critics, and our minds are so vulnerable to negative beliefs, self-criticisms and ruthless inner dialogues—“I can’t do anything right”, “I am not good enough”, “I am not lovable”—that we find it easier to speak kindly to others than to ourselves.

But because of what Christ has done for us at the cross, the way we put ourselves down is not something that God desires for us. Instead, He tells us that there is “now no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Instead, as we learn to repent and receive the forgiveness He offers us (1 John 1:9, 2 Corinthians 7:10), He changes us to become more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

When we fully understand God’s love for us and our new identity in Jesus, we can see ourselves as loved, forgiven, and redeemed people, and so learn to be kinder to ourselves.

Being kind to yourself isn’t just indulging yourself. It means being gentle and understanding towards yourself so that you’ll be encouraged to grow and flourish. Here are some ways we can practise this, as summarised through the KINDNESS acronym.

 

K – Kick A Ball and Kiss a Kiwi

When was the last time you stretched your body after working on your computer for an hour? Or went for a walk after meal, or kicked a ball with your mates? When was the last time you ate a meal or enjoyed a kiwi (or any fruit) that nourished your body?

Sometimes we interpret self-care as treating ourselves to whatever will make us feel good, but being truly kind to ourselves means looking after our bodies (health) through exercises, nutritious diets, hydration, and mindful breathing.

 

I – Ignite Your Imperfections

The self-help movement and toxic positivity culture have taught us to conceal our weaknesses and “fake it ‘til you make it”, which in turn makes us intolerant of imperfections and failures and prone to being harsh towards ourselves.

And so, one way to counter that is to lean into your imperfections. In fact, there’s an International Day for Failure (13 October), which was started to help people get past the fear of failure and learn from making mistakes. Why not celebrate the day by doing something you find interesting (e.g., playing a sport or learning a new language) without expecting yourself to be good at it?

For all our imperfections, we have a God who is in touch with our infirmities and readily gives us mercy and grace when we need it most (Hebrews 4:15-16). When we surrender our failures, weaknesses, and imperfections to God, He will uphold us (Psalm 37:24) and will use our weaknesses to display His strength and grace (2 Corinthians 12:9).

N – Nurture Your Needs

How attuned are you to your needs? What do you need when you feel tired, stressed, angry, fearful, or lonely?

Before you can nurture your needs, you’ll need to name them first. So start by asking yourself, “What do I need now?”

If you’re not sure how to answer that, a framework that can help is the PERMA wellbeing model (Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning & Accomplishment) which lists five aspects of our psychological needs. Here are some questions to help you look through each aspect:

Positive Emotions:

  • When was the last time I felt this feeling (e.g., hopeful, thankful)?
  • What was I doing then, and how can I do more of that?

Engagement:

  • What makes me curious, creative, and/or energised?
  • What activity helps me get “in the zone”?

Relationships:

  • Who can I go to for comfort and encouragement?
  • To whom can I say “I love you”, “Thank you”, “I am sorry”, and “Let me help you” more often?

Meaning & Accomplishment:

  • What helps me get up every morning? What matters most to me?
  • What could I work towards that would make a difference to me and people I love?

D – Dialogue with a Dear Friend

What would you say to a dear friend when they’ve messed up, failed, are in pain, or are going through a storm? Would you say, “It’s alright, mate. We can sort this out”, or “You are such an idiot, you deserve this”? (Not the latter I hope!)

Consider how you would comfort and encourage a friend when they go through a tough time and offer yourself the same level of understanding and compassion.

 

N – Negotiate Your No  

Take a close look at your to-do list—what patterns do you notice? How many of these fall under the must-do list, the want-to-do list, and the I-should’ve-said-no (but didn’t) list?

It’s not un-Christ-like to say “No”. Even Jesus sometimes said “No” to the overwhelming needs around Him because of His humanity (He needed to eat, sleep and rest) and priorities (He came to preach and die on the cross rather than to perform miracles) (Mark 1:34-38).

Looking at your list, how many of these activities align with your core values and key roles—as a spouse, parent, child, employer/employee, and community leader/member?

What do you need to say “No” to today, so you can be kind to yourself and say “Yes” to things that truly matter?

E – Engage in Enjoyable Activities  

You can be kinder to yourself by incorporating healthy, enjoyable activities that serve as “breathers” and “restorers”.

“Breathers” are micro-activities that help you take a little break from your work and create positive emotions while reducing stress. For example, you can take a short walk, make a drink, take deep belly breaths, sit in nature, cuddle your pet, or listen to music.

“Restorers” help you recover from prolonged stress by replenishing your physical and mental well-being, such as taking a nap, exercising, engaging in a hobby, socialising with friends and family, participating in a cause/mission you care about, or going for a holiday (ideally with limited access to your devices).

 

S – Slow Down, Savour, and Stop

Are you often busy, yet you still feel unproductive and purposeless? It’s time to slow down and savour the present moment—to just stop and rest.

In His mercy, God gave us the gift of Sabbath rest. Psalm 92, a song for the Sabbath, gives us a picture of what it’s really about—turning away from our self-driven ambitions and pride that fuel over-activity, and turning to God for rest and refreshing of our souls.

You can slow down and savour the present moment by creating an uninterrupted time and space to be in God’s presence. Breathing exercises can be helpful for this, and as you take each breath, use those moments to pray—to surrender your stresses to God and ask Him to show you what to be thankful for.

Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” You can intentionally taste and see the goodness of God by:

  • thinking through His words (Lamentations 3:21-23; Psalm 63:5-7; Psalm 77:11),
  • sharing His goodness with others (Psalms 71:15-24; Psalms 145:1-7), and
  • enjoying His creation and gifts to you—whenever you’re doing an enjoyable activity, use all your senses to absorb all the details (what you see, hear, smell, taste, feel), and thank God for each aspect of this experience.

S – Surrender to the Sovereignty of God        

Studies show that our perception of control (perceived control) is essential to our well-being. So, when we desperately try to control things that are beyond us, we get trapped by disappointments, discouragement, and distress, such as fear, worries and anxiety.

Learn to recognise what is within your control and what is not. For example, you have control over your own actions, e.g., what you decide to do with your thoughts and feelings, what you choose to say or do to others. What you have little or no control over are other people—what they say and do, how they perceive your intentions—and certain outcomes (i.e. times you know you did your part, and things just didn’t work out—that is okay).

We need to surrender what is beyond our control to the sovereignty of God (Matthew 16:24). He has the power and wisdom to do all that He pleases, everything He does is good, and He is always in control.

When you feel weary because you’re holding tightly to the illusion of “I can control all things”, accept Jesus’s invitation—go to Him and exchange your heavy burden for His light one, so you will find rest for your soul (Matthew 11:28-30).

 

Being kind to ourselves is learning to see ourselves as God does, and to do and enjoy the good things that God has given us. There is no true love and kindness outside of understanding how God has made us to be and immersing ourselves in His life-giving word.

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