How To Be Kinder To Yourself
A therapist's own experience of how to find compassion, forgiveness and admiration for yourself.
Empathy can be described as “walking in someone’s shoes”. And empathy is one of the things a counsellor must become an expert in.
One of the biggest empathy lessons I had in my years of training was learning to have empathy with myself, and recognising bad habits that I had taken a lifetime to cultivate. Sounds strange doesn’t it. How can I have empathy for myself? I already walk in my own shoes.
Well to start us off, I’ll give you a little bit of theory. We all have “parts of ourselves” (no naughty jokes please). Great theorists have many different names for the parts of the self, the most famous you may of heard of being the ID, Ego and Super Ego that Freud talked about.
Transactional analysis (another theory) uses terms that are far more relatable to teaching and can help you unlock a lot of what plays out in the classroom. TA theorists believe everyone has an inner adult, an inner parent, and an inner child. They play out in situations we are in with others - partners, bosses, friends, employees, students. Someone becomes a metaphorical child, someone becomes the parent, or ideally, we both relate to one another as adults. Depending on many factors and previous childhood experiences will dictate who comes out at what times and with who.
Now, on to the empathy. I’m going to quickly teach you how to get in touch with your inner child and notice some of the messages you give to that inner child. The point of this is that your inner child is as sensitive as the children we work with, and we may not realise the ways in which we talk to that part of ourselves, and how we subconsciously make ourselves feel by doing so.
Having empathy with the most vulnerable part of yourself can increase your awareness of the importance of self-care on your mental wellbeing – I will go on to talk about ways you can improve your self-care routine in a moment.
Empathising with your inner child may help you when dealing with behaviour in classrooms and empathising with the child’s point of view, but mostly I hope it will help you have more empathy for the part of yourself you might treat a bit too harshly.
Now, if anyone feels upset when doing this, it can be a natural feeling, but if it brings up things and you feel a bit vulnerable, look after yourself, talk to someone, and if you need to, I can get you in touch with some great counsellors that will help you talk it through.
Firstly, take a deep breath, and try to relax as much as possible. And let’s keep fairly quiet so we all have a chance to reflect on what we are feeling.
Think back to one of the last times something didn’t go great at work for you. Nothing too serious, we’ve only got 5 minutes, I’m talking about things like not getting something done on time, losing something, or maybe you spilt your coffee in your break and didn’t have time to make a new one…
Now, think about what you told yourself when it happened… Was it something like “Gah, I’m such an idiot”, or “why didn’t I do that??” or maybe “I’m so useless”. Maybe you’re super chilled out, and you were like “oh well, never mind”.
Now imagine yourself as a child, being told the message you just thought of by a big adult. How would it make you feel? Really get in touch with those feelings.
The thing that you told yourself in a stressful moment is an example of your inner parent talking to your inner child. Notice whether the internal voice is positive, calm, nurturing, realistic, or whether it is a critical parent, harsh, unforgiving, “shouty”?
Now the thing is, we give ourselves messages like this 100s of times a day, without noticing. Right now I made you focus on what you may be thinking to yourself about your actions, and the way it made you feel. But usually we don’t take the time to notice, and we can perhaps become stressed, and worked up – or whatever your usual stress response may be, particularly if we have a naturally critical internal parent.
So now, I would like to think back to the episode that you thought of earlier. If the thing you told yourself was negative flip that negative message on its head and be realistic. In place of “I’m an idiot”, say to yourself, “ok, so that didn’t go as planned, but I tried my best, and I know what I can do for next time”, replace the “I’m useless” with “I’m normal, I’m ok, everyone makes mistakes” or just simply say “hey, don’t worry, it’s going to be ok”. Be forgiving to yourself, give yourself permission to make mistakes.
Now notice how that made you feel. Perhaps calmer, relieved, less stressed or anxious?
It can be quite powerful to notice, but difficult to tune in to. So take a moment each day to practice the way you talk to yourself in those “automatic response” moments.
In summary, be kind to your inner child, acknowledge mistakes for what they are, a normal part of life, don’t be too critical, practice being a supportive, nurturing inner parent to your inner child. And it DOES take practice.
And for those of you with internal parents already telling your inner child positive, supportive and nurturing messages - that’s fantastic, share how you do it with others!
And a quick note on self-care. Tonight, when you go home, take maybe 30 minutes out, and do something just for you. Maybe make your favourite tea in your favourite mug, sit and savour it, or book that thing you wanted to go and do but never have time for. It doesn’t even have to be a treat, even simple “routine” self-care like eating well and washing our hair can be neglected over doing things for others and that stuff can be important and nourishing for your mental health!
Don’t just do the self-care, but notice you’re doing it just for you. It sounds simple, and is very effective at improving a feeling wellbeing, but we rarely do it – why? Perhaps another subconscious message “I don’t deserve it” or “I haven’t earned it” or “others come first”.
Well, speaking from the position of one adult to another, I believe you do deserve it, and you have earned it, so put yourself first, if just for a moment.