Self-Care: How to Be Kind to Yourself for a Healthier and Happier Life
Self-criticsim is an abrasive demon that can wear away the shine from your “being”. The simple solution is to accept who you are and be kind to yourself. OK, it’s not always that simple, but when we understand the negative effects of self-criticism, letting it go can be easier. Knowledge is power.
The Corroding Effect of Self-Criticism
Researchers Divya Kann at Vanderbilt University and Heidi Levitt at the University of Massachusetts Boston report that self-criticism is commonly a component of depression. Their study, published in the Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, also found that severe self-criticism can lead to chronic anxiety and eating disorders. That’s not all. Self-criticism can damage relationships and worst of all, being constantly too hard on yourself can lead to thoughts of suicide.
“We give more weight to our flaws, mistakes and shortcomings than our successes,” said Charlotte Lieberman in “Why You Should Stop Being So Hard on Yourself,” in The New York Times.
Continuously obsessing about how you mishandled an uncomfortable situation, or a slip of the tongue, or even a bad decision can drive a person down into a rut of negativity. That self-criticism can end up decreasing motivation and productivity.
Does that sound like a few good reasons to stop beating up on yourself? To stop expecting perfection in work and play and relationships?
5 Steps to Self-Kindness
Negative inclinations or habits and mental health disorders can make it hard to just lighten up and be good to yourself. And you may not be able to do it alone, so be good to yourself and ask for help from a knowledgeable and compassionate therapist.
Five ways to begin being kinder to yourself:
- Love yourself. First, just make a choice to try a new approach. Take small, manageable steps.Be as compassionate to yourself as you would to a friend, or a brother, sister or child you love and treasure. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to have, or at least begin to arrange, what you need, whether it’s more time to relax, a better job, or more opportunities for friendship, training or education.
- Remove Yourself from Negative Situations
Perhaps being kind to yourself means leaving an abusive relationship, a job where you’re not appreciated, or finding a way to get unhooked from a drug or alcohol addiction. These situations often require assistance from a mental health professional. You can begin by looking into community social services or asking your primary care physician for a referral.
- Incorporate Mindfulness and Meditation into Your Life
Research increasingly shows that noticing our thoughts and learning to let them go, as in meditation, helps break the cycle of negative thinking and self-criticism. Focusing on the breath is one simple way to begin. Many community organizations like libraries, or yoga centers offer classes in meditation and mindfulness.
- Be Aware of Self-Criticism and Replace it with Self-Compassion
If you find yourself thinking you’re fat and ugly because you didn’t lose those 15 pounds, turn the thought to being thankful that you’re healthy and doing activities to become even healthier. If you break up with a romantic partner and begin to turn over in your mind that you’ll now be lonely forever, congratulate yourself on having the relationships you’ve had, on having current friendships, and finding ways to improve relationships, be it learning kinder ways to communicate your true feelings, or learning to have more patience with others.We are all human, and a truth about humans is that we are all perfect and imperfect, each in our own unique way.
- Focus on Something Bigger than Yourself
Volunteering with a nonprofit organization that has meaning for you helps sustain the group’s idealistic efforts and gives you a chance to turn your attention to doing good for others. It can also offer you a chance to meet many people who have learned to leave self-criticism behind and find the strength to rise up above many life challenges. Help children learn to read or do math. Many teenagers need a mentor. Hospices welcome new faces and fresh energy to comfort people confronting the end of life.
The message is, be kind to yourself, let go of expecting perfection and do whatever it is that makes you feel good and leads you to a healthier and happier life. Listen to those you love and trust, but mostly, listen to your heart.
This article has been updated for 2021.
Lieberman, Charlotte, “Why You Should Stop Being So Hard on Yourself,” The New York Times.
Kanna, Divya, and Levitt, Heidi, “A Review of Client Self-Criticism in Psychotherapy,” Journal of Psychotherapy Integration.