Hey everyone! Been seeing a lot of posts lately on November gratitude and holiday kindness. I LOVE that folks are working to shift their perspective to the positive, even though this time of year can be both joyful and difficult. And yet… many find the idea of positivity abhorrent, especially when it comes to self.
So let’s talk about how to make this foreign concept feel less impossible.
One of my absolute favorite meditations to teach is loving-kindness meditation. But because I work primarily with people who struggle with trauma, shame, perfectionism, and a nasty inner critic, I’ve found that some loving-kindness practices can sometimes feel like violence.
The best way I can explain some of why this occurs is through metaphor. Let’s say I want to go to the gym to take care of my health and get stronger mentally and physically. And to me, that means lifting. 400 sounds like a good solid number. If it’s my first day at the gym would it make sense for me to try to squat 400lbs? Absolutely not! That’s nonsense. I’d probably throw out my back, at the very least. So instead, I’d likely learn the proper form, then add the bar, then maybe add 5lbs, and then incrementally make increases as I built up the necessary muscles to safely squat. I may never get to 400lbs but if I can calibrate my goal to be small, actionable steps, then I can safely move in the direction of what’s important to me (health and a sense of strength), vs an end goal that may or may not serve me (squatting 400lbs).
So let’s bring that back to kindness. For some, being kind to themselves feels like violence, like going from 0 to 400. Perhaps it’s never been safe to be kind to themselves, perhaps they don’t feel they deserve the kindness, perhaps they are simply repeating what they have been taught. Whatever the reason to go from “I hate myself”, “I don’t like myself”, or “I’m worthless” to “I love you” is too much too fast. It could feel completely inauthentic and false, it could bring up anger and a sense of being stuck, or it can even trigger more negative thoughts about self.
Here we are coming full circle, so how do we make the idea of self-kindness and self-gratitude possible? We take teeny tiny steps towards it, praise ourselves for trying, forgive ourselves when we have days where it isn’t possible, and trust that each time we practice we move towards a positive shift in perspective about self.
Instead of saying, “I love myself”, what if we tried, “I like me sometimes”? What if we practice self-kindness in the work we do to improve our self-esteem? What if we saw self-love or positive self-regard as a spectrum vs a black and white?
So that’s my PSA for the day. If you can’t be positive right now, that’s ok. Can you find one small change that feels possible and strive to practice that? Knowing that is exactly what you are doing, a PRACTICE. When you find yourself struggling, try to thank yourself for being aware of that struggle. Try to remember that when we practice something, it doesn’t always go well. But the more we practice, the easier it gets. And simply practicing, whether it’s for 10 seconds or 10 minutes is actually a very big step and wonderous start or restart to your self-compassion journey.
And one last thought on why I love this idea of self-kindness and self-gratitude on a spectrum. Because once we practice this, we can learn to apply it to many other areas of life. Perhaps this is a small bit of body kindness, for example, you may not be ready to say you love your body, but can you practice saying thank you to your feet for getting you to your destination. Even if you are only 1% thankful, that’s a 1% shift towards a more kind relationship with your body.
How about some kindness around experiencing a high level of anxiety after a lot of work on decreasing anxiety. As a clinician specializing in anxiety, this is a fear I often hear. But if you’ve had some growth in this area, and then feel the same level of panic or anxiety as when you began that growth, it’s OK. You are not going back to square one. That’s not how this works. This ebb and flow mean you’ll have some high anxiety days and somewhere you have little to no anxiety. And this is great! Part of the beauty of life is having a full life. And a full life includes all the emotions, “good”, bad”, and in between.
The fact is, sometimes things happen that will cause anxiety. Part of what you can learn in therapy are the tools to tolerate the tough days when they happen AND still celebrate the growth you’ve had on days where anxiety is a little more possible to regulate.
If you can bring just a touch of kindness to your self-work, you’ll be surprised at how quickly things will start to shift for you. And if you don’t know where to begin to check out some of my free meditations on Insight Timer. There’s one on body gratitude and another on loving-kindness. Both are trauma-sensitive.