26 Dec

Why do we tend to be kinder to others than we are to ourselves?

So often, when I'm speaking with my clients that experience depression or low self-esteem, I ask them the '3 Things' questions:

  1. What are 3 things that you like about yourself?
  2. What are 3 things that you dislike about yourself?

For the sake of clarity I am not trying to get them to highlight their flaws or demean themselves; it is merely an exercise in perspective - Are their inner thoughts are positively or negatively geared?

So, what do the clients have to say? When asked to list the things they would like to change - they could probably rattle off at least twice the nominated amount without even blinking! On the other hand, when asked about the three things that make them special, almost every single one of them struggles to name even one, let alone three.

Now that we have cleared that up, onto the answers. When asked to list the things they would like to change - they could probably rattle off at least twice the nominated amount without even blinking! On the other hand, when asked about the three things that make them special, almost every single one of them struggles to name even one, let alone three.

I read a quote recently that had me thinking:

For something that seems so simple - speak to yourself with kindness - why is it that we struggle with it so much? I guess the answer is simple - we wouldn't believe the kind words, even if they were given to us.

I think this happens for a few reasons:

REASON 1 - Your scales are out of whack. You all have an inner scale that helps you to measure positive and negative information. Think of them kind of like the scales held by Lady Justice, but instead of them representing the support and opposition of a case, they represent those same factors within you. People with a healthy self-esteem can effectively balance their scales by filtering out unnecessary/untrue negative input from themselves and others and accepting accurate praise and compliments. Sometimes, however, if we favour one side of the scales over the other the balance is tipped, which skews the way we speak to ourselves. Favour the side of support and you lack modesty, but favour the side of opposition and you lose sight of what makes you beautiful, which results in an overload of negative input into your system.

REASON 2 - Your core beliefs are working against you. What you believe about yourself and others often starts in childhood and heavily influences the language you use in your inner monologue. These beliefs are subsequently used as the framework of an inner filter for the information that we are willing to take on board. If your core beliefs tell you that you are 'ugly', 'stupid', 'untalented', or 'inferior' then you are more likely to welcome information that confirms these beliefs [confirmation bias], just as much as you are likely to reject any information that says otherwise. This means that any positive input that speaks to your good personality traits, physical attributes, intelligence, or creativity are promptly filtered out, in favour of the opinions/criticisms that fit the negative core beliefs. This means that while you are living with negative core beliefs, you are likely to find it difficult to be kind to yourself.

REASON 3 - Your playback tape is glitching. If you are constantly speaking to yourself with criticism and judgement you are closing yourself off to a world where an alternative reality exists. The difficulty here is that not only are you unable contribute the positive answers to the '3 Things' question, but you are also unlikely to accept 3 positive things about you from a third party - which further reinforces the negative self-talk that's playing on repeat in your thoughts. For example, how many times have you given someone a compliment and they have brushed it off? I'd hazard a guess that your compliment is more likely to receive a "No I'm not"/"It's nothing" than it is a "Thank you." Why? Because 'Thank you' suggests acceptance of the information, whereas "It's nothing" is a rejection. Put simply, you can’t expect a comedy movie to play when you put a horror film in the DVD player. If you want to watch comedy, you need to change the disc.

REASON 4 - Your mental health is suffering. Aspects of our mental health, such as depression and anxiety, can also play a big hand in how we treat ourselves. In the case of depression, one of the most challenging things to overcome is the inability to find the positives; both in life and in ourselves. As for anxiety, the self-talk is running amuck with a list of reasons explaining in detail why we 'can't'. There isn't a lot of work going into the solutions and pep talk category because our mind struggles to visualise a scenario where that exists, but the "I can't"/"It's scary" cup is overflowing because that is the most likely outcome based on what we tell ourselves.

With all these things going on, no wonder being kind to yourself is hard! We are fighting against ourselves. Just in case this wasn’t hard enough, to add insult to injury, you’re probably working with more that one of them at a time, because they are all connected.

If it’s not managed this is the cycle that never ends: you think badly of yourself, you feel bad about yourself, you hear a compliment and dismiss it OR you hear a criticism and accept it, et voila, you are back at the beginning of the cycle, ready to begin again.

In summary, the areas that effect your Kindness Factor:

  1. Low self-esteem
  2. Negative core-beliefs
  3. Negative self-talk
  4. Mental health
  5. Faulty/absent personal information filter

What you can do to boost your Kindness Factor:

  • Be aware of your thoughts and ask yourself which ones are helpful and which ones are harmful to your well-being
  • Change the tape that's playing in your head: When you notice a harmful thought, reframe it - rather than "I can't"  --> “How can I?”, rather than “I’m not good enough” --> “I’m nervous, but I know that I can do this.”
  • Acknowledge that the anxiety is making the situation a lot bigger and scarier than it is, and implement some coping strategies
  • If you struggle to find a way to change your thoughts, ask yourself what you would say to someone else - sometimes we forget how to be kind to ourselves, but we remember how to be kind to those we care about
  • Speak to a counsellor: sometimes it can be helpful to speak through your thoughts with a third party, and to gain a different perspective

What are your thoughts? Do any of these areas effect you or someone you care about?

Comment below about your Kindness Factor. Is it doing well, or could it do with some TLC? If yours is strong, what do you do to help it thrive?

Until next time… Choose kindness.

* The email will not be published on the website.