Be kind to yourself (but not too kind)

bekindtoyourselfThere are a lot of infographics doing the rounds on social media that encourage us to forgive ourselves, be kind to ourselves, love ourselves. And let’s face it, the world is full of bastards who want to grind us down. We need to be kind to ourselves.

But not too kind. We need love, but sometimes we need tough love.

Pick a random person and analyze their life. Ruthlessly pick through their actions and thoughts. Make a note of all the things they did wrong, the ideas they misunderstood, the people they let down, their multitudinous failures. Be merciless in your analysis. The mistakes are so easy to see if you look closely.

Now look at your own life. Can you spot the mistakes so easily? Are you aware of everything you did or said that could have been done or said better? Can you tell which of your beliefs are fundamentally wrong? If you could go back and live your life again, would you do it better next time?

The problem is that it’s hard to see our own mistakes. We’re biased. We can mis-spell a word and our error sits there in plain view on the page, mocking us openly. We just don’t see it.

Others see our mistakes all too clearly.

Some will use our failings to put us down. Avoid those people.

Some will make helpful, constructive comments that we can learn from, if we are open to learning.

Some will gloss over our faults, forgive us unconditionally and heap praise on us, however small our achievements. We all need people like that in our lives. But not too many. Because if we are going to reach our goals in life, we need to know when we are moving in the wrong direction.

To accept our failings and correct them we first need confidence. We need to know that we are capable of loving and being loved. That we have infinite potential for good. That each one of us is a living miracle with unique and valuable skills. That we are truly remarkable individuals.

So first we need to make ourselves strong. Then we must recognize and fix our mistakes.

And then we can help others become stronger and better too.

18 responses to “Be kind to yourself (but not too kind)

  1. Sometimes the hardest words to hear are those of constructive criticism given by a friend, one who truly has our best interests at heart; yet while they are the hardest, they are also the most helpful. This is a great reminder to be open (a: to hearing those words and (b: to being the kind of friend who is able to give them. Both places are difficult at the time, with the potential for huge reward as a result. Cheers to you on another thought provoking post!

  2. I had the benefit of analyzing my life during the writing, and now rewriting, of my memoir. I am writing about a time in ninth grade when i broke up with a boy because he was half black and that made me feel odd and ashamed. Can you imagine? But that’s how I felt. I can’t lie, or even leave that part out, because it speaks to the evolution of my views on race, and on interactions with boys for that matter. You have to have a there to get to here. So, I am including it, and if my work is ever published, I will have to accept criticisms that I am racist, and I have to accept that that may be partly true at that point in my life. And give myself grace, because the past cannot be changed.

    I got way off topic, but I think that speaks to the universality of the subject of your post, or maybe I’m just rambling, as I have a tendency to do.


  3. You have an excellent and truth-telling post here, Steve. I once had a bust-up disagreement with my sister when I refused to tell my little nephew that he had done well on the piano when he hadn’t … he just been messing around. She was furious with me; I was furious with her. She thought he needed continuous positive reinforcement; I thought he needed to learn that people know when you’re just messing around, and they don’t praise you for it.

    Nice post !

    • It’s a difficult line to walk, isn’t it?

      • It is … I don’t have children, but I’m taught them, and it has always seemed best to be gently honest and kindly truthful with them. Praise does help their self-esteem, however, unwarranted praise teachers them that they needn’t try hard or work to potential. It is a fine line.

  4. Excellent post and something we all really need to be honest with ourselves about. We’re too quick to judge others turning a blind eye on ourselves, but at the same time, I think that we do way too much coddling with others telling them what they want to hear instead of the truth. I know I sometimes do it with a two people in my life because I frankly don’t have the strength to defend my views to them and so instead don’t speak with them much and when I do, I keep it light. Cop out on my part I know.

  5. I think there’s a general tendency to dichotomize our attitudes towards ourselves and others into “positive” and “negative” views. If you’re critical of yourself or someone else, you’re projecting “negativity,” and no one wants to be accused of that. I’ve gotten this plenty at work. If I look at the financials and they stink several months in a row, of course I’m going to say the company’s in trouble. The response is invariably that “things will turn around” and that we need to “have a positive outlook.” But a positive outlook is not going cover payroll, and the bottom line is, you have to acknowledge that there’s a problem before you can find ways of addressing it. Personally, I don’t think it’s about being positive or negative – it’s about being realistic. Sure, sometimes I deserve a pat on the back – and sometimes I deserve to beat myself up. What we really need to be able to do is differentiate between the two, to figure out what type of response is really warranted by the way we’ve behaved.

  6. This is a really terrific post, Steve. I especially liked “We need to be kind to ourselves.But not too kind. We need love, but sometimes we need tough love.” As a person who writes about abuse issues, I find we can sometimes “coddle” one another in trying to be helpful. But sometimes we need to be a little firmer in helping one another become strong.

  7. I’m glad this post is going down well. Watch out everyone – I might visit your blog and leave comments that are kind, but not too kind 🙂

  8. Very true Steve, only there is a small problem with some of that criticism, as it’s not often the either/or version (which is easier to identify: those who help you be better-versus-those who put you down) there is another type that has more to do with “the role” the others want of you, whereby, inasmuch as you conform to it, you’re “OK”, while, inasmuch as your choices take you away from “the role” they want from you/expect from you, then, whatever you do will be criticized, the most insidious kind of criticism that fits that category is often the sugar-coated “for-your-own-good” one… imagine that role like a suit (straightjacket, more like…) and to them, that is the one criterion by which they measure you. And so, that can make the whole territory of criticism very complicated…(I am not sure if I explained myself clearly! I guess I meant to say if it were about constructive/destructive criticism that were easy to identify, things would be perfectly fine. Unfortunately, some insidious motivations come into play, and often, the darker they are, the more difficult it is to identify them!) Sorry for the long rant!! 🙂

  9. W. K. Tucker

    Well said…yes, it’s so easy to see others’ faults, but not our own.
    And I think society is doing our children a great disservice. It seems as if awards are handed out at school for practically anything. Even as children, we need our failures and mistakes to be acknowledged, not excused. How else will we learn to do better?

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