Take a moment to think about all the little ways in which you withhold tenderness and compassion from yourself on a daily basis. It may take you a while to even register what those actions might be. We have become so used to disregarding our needs, that we lose sight of how cruel we are actually being to ourselves sometimes. When you stop to reflect, you can begin to see how you might be reinforcing thoughts of unworthiness and self-hatred without even realizing it.
For example, I caught myself being unkind the other night as I prepared my dinner. I was heating up leftovers like I often do after work. As I took the hot plate our of the microwave, I noticed that instead of getting pot holders or making sure I didn’t burn myself, I just rushed to set the plate back down in the other room before the pain became too great. Now this is something I do all the time. I guess I can’t be bothered to add on the extra step of finding something else to grab the plate with besides my bare hands. I don’t know what was different about that day, but as I hurried to set the hot plate down, I realized how unkind I was being to myself in that small, unconscious gesture.
Would I allow a family member, friend, or other loved one to risk burning themselves in that way? Of course not. I would insist that they protect themselves and avoid any unnecessary pain or discomfort. Yet I never felt the need to offer myself that same grace or consideration. How sad, I thought. How unkind I have been. Am I not to be included in the category of “loved one”? Why not? Do I not claim to love myself? Why was I not behaving as if that were true? How had I so easily been overlooking these opportunities to be gentle with myself?
After realizing the subtle cruelty of that common occurrence, I started to wonder in what other ways I had been neglecting myself. I began to notice small acts of unkindness everywhere I looked. There are many times when I’ll force myself to wear an article of clothing that is uncomfortable just because it looks good. I’m also guilty of things like: forcing myself to workout even when I’m feeling sick, biting my nails until my fingers are hurting or even bleeding, aggressively picking at my skin, mentally berating the reflection I see in the mirror, shaming myself for feeling confident, being silly, or even just dancing, etc.
The more I think about it, the more ways I notice I’m being unkind to myself on a daily basis. I’m saddened not only for all these things I’m realizing, but also for how long it took me to realize them. Looking back, I’ve done these things for as long as I can remember. As a teenager I remember not wearing sunglasses or sunblock, white knuckling through injuries in order to keep up with my 8 mile daily run, even performing intentional self-harm. The craziest part is knowing that I would never put up with someone else treating me this way, nor would I stand idly by and allow my loved ones to treat themselves with the same disrespect.
I’m slowly working towards becoming more mindful of these small, hurtful gestures. It helps to imagine how I would feel if someone else was in a similar situation. Then I offer myself the same consideration and kindness that I would offer them. I think without even being aware, a lot of us are the most abusive person in our own lives. What a difference it would make if we could bring a soft, loving intention to the little things we do each day.
The next time you notice yourself experiencing discomfort, anxiety, sadness, shame, etc. Ask yourself, am I contributing to the state I’m in right now? If so, how might I offer myself comfort instead? Instead of thinking “what a pain” when I have to take the time to protect my skin from a hot surface, I will think “here you go, dear, I love you, and I want to protect you.” Just because it’s us doing it to ourselves, that is still no excuse to cause suffering or be neglectful. The way we treat ourselves is just as important, if not more important, than the treatment we receive from other people. What are some of the ways you might offer yourself more love and compassion where you’ve been withholding it? How might that make a difference in the way you feel as you move through your day? Make an effort to be kinder toward yourself in small ways as well as in larger ways. Because you are worth it. And even if you have a hard time believing that, think of it as practice. Practice self-love and self-compassion so that you might more easily be able to extend that same energy to others in your life. Or even better, do it for the people in your life that love you. Treat yourself the way they would want you to be treated.