Self-kindness… but how?

This piece is a short discussion on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and self-kindness.

ACT is described on the ACBS website as:

“Developed within a coherent theoretical and philosophical framework, ACT is a unique empirically based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behavior change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility means contacting the present moment fully as a conscious human being, and based on what the situation affords, changing or persisting in behavior in the service of chosen values.”

ACT is categorized as a third wave psychotherapy (if you love to geek out as I do) along with others, such as Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). In addition to the Cognitive-Behavioral approach, these evidence-based therapies involve concepts such as mindfulness, acceptance, compassion, values and metacognition. I love and am a proponent of all three of them.

I was in an ACT workshop over the last weekend, taught by Prof. Kelly Wilson. Kelly emphasized relating to our difficulties with kindness and to “not make enemies of our complexities”. Indeed, kindness and compassion are concepts referenced a lot in CFT, MBCT and ACT. Because I am undertaking trainings in ACT and MBCT, and am reading about CFT and working with a CFT psychotherapist, I hear these concepts a lot these days.

Just as in the ACT workshop, as we were sitting in a meditation practice in the MBCT training on Monday, I witnessed similar words, “if there are any difficulties, discomfort or pain, see if you can offer kindness and hold them lightly”. Upon hearing these from our trainer, my frontal brain started to take over in the midst of the meditation (that’s a no-no in theory, but it’s only human that the mind wanders, and we are asked to kindly bring our focus back to our breath when it does). I started to think about what it really means to show kindness to myself. After my momentary deliberation, I ended up imagining my own hand patting myself on the back. That, of course, is only the literal understanding of being kind to oneself. But what would the deeper manifestation of such a sentiment be?

When we see our loved ones being hard on themselves we tell them or when they see us be hard on ourselves they tell us: Be kind to yourself. All well intended, but what does being kind look like and how can we cultivate this kindness? How can we generate it from a point of self-love and not from a point of “must” and “should”.

Kelly incorporated this powerfully, into a meditation (these are not his exact words but what remained with me after sitting in the meditation through his guidance):

Think of a little person, a child if you will, who you love without measure and without reason. This can be your own child, a niece or a nephew, a friend’s child or any other child who you love. Imagine looking deeply in that person’s eyes, with all the unconditional and immeasurable love you have for them. See their eyes looking back at you. Stay there for a bit. And let’s say that they made mistakes, and messed up badly (because that’s what humans do), would you give them another chance? Now instead of this little person, imagine looking at, with the same amount of unsurmountable love you have, into your own eyes, or better your own eyes when you were a child yourself. And let’s say that you have made mistakes and messed up badly (because that’s what humans do) would you give yourself another chance? If yes, think about what that chance would look like, what would the you, that is loved and cared for, would be able to do?

We are all born into this world with widely varying circumstances. And we choose none of these circumstances; not our biology, genetics, environment, whether or not we are loved and cared for nor what happens around or to us. Our little selves do the best they can to survive and one way or another grow into the adults we are today. Ask yourself, if you will, do you not deserve kindness and compassion for all you’ve gone through? What acts of kindness can you offer yourself, if not exactly what you would offer to the little person you love so immeasurably? Better care for your health? Forgiveness? A chance to start again? Is there anything you can do today as an act of self-love? For that would be self-kindness. Not because you “must” or “should” but because the little child in you and thereby you deserve it more than anything.


Photo by Brandi Ibrao on Unsplash

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