Believe it or not….it’s Spring! It may seem like it passed you by with all that’s going on, but it is indeed Spring. And that means baby animals are everywhere!
We’ve started this article with photos of adorable baby animals. Kittens. Puppies. Ducklings. Bunnies. The purpose of this is twofold. One is to bring you much needed pleasure and a burst of joy! The second is to open up a conversation about gentleness.
When you look at the photos of these precious baby creatures, what do you feel? Are you smiling? Did you say to yourself “Ahhhhh”? Did your body soften? Did you get the urge to hold or kiss them?
What would it be like if you turned those sensations toward yourself? Just for one moment, take a deep breath and try to redirect the tenderness and softness you just felt when looking at those photos, toward your own being. This is a snapshot of what it’s like to be gentle with yourself. It doesn’t have to be hard or all-encompassing; it can just be little moments like this where you take a second to breath and focus on directing kindness inward.
Obstacle to Gentleness – The Inner Critic
If you struggled doing this mini-exercise or if you often find it near impossible to be kind to yourself, it could be due to one of the main obstacles that comes up when we’re trying to be gentle with ourselves – the voice of the Inner Critic. This is the voice that shames you and tells you you’re doing it wrong, you’re not good enough, and that you’re worthless. This voice may be so familiar to you, that you hardly notice it. However, it is an unhelpful Critic, and it is the opposite of being compassionate and gentle with yourself.
If you have a history of trauma or grew up in an alcoholic home, your Inner Critic may become even louder when you are experiencing emotional pain. This sounds counterintuitive, but it is often the way children who grew up in homes with addiction or other kinds of abuse were responded to when they were upset, scared, or depressed. Consequently, if you were treated this way in childhood, you most likely learned to talk to yourself this way as an adult. But you CAN unlearn this pattern.
Disarming the Inner Critic with Self-Compassion
The first step in creating a new, more gentle way of treating yourself is by becoming AWARE of your Inner Critic and all the things it says to you and the ways you treat yourself as a result. As your awareness increases, you can silence the Critic’s negativity and replace it with more helpful things like gentleness and self-compassion.
Dr. Kristin Neff, one of the leading experts in self-compassion, says that self-compassion is a response you can choose to have towards yourself, most especially when you are experiencing pain or suffering. She emphasizes that self-compassion is not just a feeling, but that it is a practice.
The best way to begin a practice of being compassionate with yourself is by becoming mindful and accepting of whatever painful experience you are having, while treating yourself with kindness and care. You do this by holding yourself in love and connection and giving yourself the support and comfort you need to bear the pain. Essentially, it is a practice of treating yourself the same way you would treat a good friend who is suffering.
If all this sounds impossible, take another look at the sweet baby animals in these photos. The vulnerability you can so clearly see in them is the same vulnerability that is residing within you. You deserve to treat yourself with the same softness and gentleness you would offer to them.
Breathe, Take Breaks, and Practice Kindness
As our ‘normal’ continues to shift, feeling tenderness towards yourself and those you’re living with may be feeling harder and harder to do. We encourage you to give yourself a break and remind yourself you’re doing the best you can! If you’re able to, take a walk outside and enjoy the sights and smells of Spring. And remember to breathe. This is one of the easiest ways to be kind and gentle with yourself (and others).
Tensions are high right now, and no one is doing this perfectly. All kinds of pain, grief, and trauma are surfacing for people, and it’s an emotionally overwhelming time for most. We recognize this, and we invite you to call, email, or fill out a contact form on our website if you are interested in exploring counseling options with us. We would love to support you.