How to Be Kind to Yourself (+ Top 10 List)

In honor of Random Acts of Kindness Day, Dr. Isoma shares his own struggle with being kind to himself and shares a list of ways to treat yourself with more kindness.

This has been a rough first month of the New Year for me. My wife and I are expecting our first baby, we just opened our new practice, and we are still putting our new home together. I know this all sounds really exciting, and it is. But, at times, it can also be stressful and scary.

What if my practice fails? Am I going to be a good father? What if I can’t manage everything? These questions constantly bombard my mind. Then, my inner critic starts up: “You’re too disorganized,” “You’re in over your head,” “You don’t even know how to hold a baby – you’re going to be a terrible dad.” The underlying message tends to be the same: “You’re not good enough.”

Perhaps you can relate to some version of the “I’m not good enough” story. When it shows up, it can make us feel terrible about ourselves and bring us down. Most of the time, we work really hard to push this story away, argue with it, or distract ourselves from it. But it always comes back, typically when we feel at our worst.

Sometimes it can feel like our mind is our worst enemy – like a bully just looking to kick us while we’re down. But if you take a closer listen, you might notice that this so-called bully is actually trying to give you some important information. 

Our brains evolved to keep us safe from perceived dangers, connect with others, and help us grow. Being able to anticipate failures, avoid pitfalls, and drive our system into fight-or-flight mode increases our chances at continued survival. This means that even the most self-critical information is for the purpose of safety and advancement.

Think of it this way – It wouldn’t be all that helpful if our minds gave us only positive affirmations. What would happen if my mind only told me I’m going to be the best dad in the world? (Yes, that’s what my future mug will say.) What’s motivating me to learn how to properly hold a baby, take parenting classes, or even attend to my child’s needs? Without my inner critic, I would think I’m already awesome at everything, even if I’m really not.

In some ways, our “negative” mind is more like a close friend without a filter rather than a vindictive bully. Most of us want our friends to let us know when we mess up, so we can learn and grow. The problem with this friend is he has no idea how to say things in a “nice” way. Still, you know he has your best interest in mind.

So, how do we deal with this filter-less friend who really just wants the best for us? For starters, notice what isn’t working – telling your inner friend to shut up, arguing with him, ignoring him, or drowning him out with the fifth consecutive episode of your favorite show. Instead, I invite you to do something completely different – listen to him.

If you are willing, even for two minutes, listen from a different perspective. When your inner friend says, “I’m not good enough,” what do you think he/she is really trying to tell you? If it’s possible that their words are intended to keep you safe, would you want to treat him/her differently?

I’m not saying you have to like this inner friend all the time – I know I don’t. You don’t even HAVE to be kind to him/her. But see what it might be like to stop fighting with him/her all the time and invite them to join your journey. If you would like to learn specific ways to treat yourself with more kindness, here’s a list of my top 10 recommendations.

10 WAYS TO BE KIND TO YOURSELF

  1. Give yourself a hug. If it feels awkward and weird, you’re doing it right. Give it another 10 seconds and see what it was like to really hug yourself.
  2. Do the activity that makes you feel most connected to life. For me, going to the beach is when I feel whole, even if I’m also feeling hurt.
  3. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel, even if it’s unpleasant. There is a big difference between fighting against painful feelings and being willing to have them.
  4. Chances are you are doing the best you can with what you have. Gently remind yourself of that and see what happens when you can let your best be good enough.
  5. See if you can remember a time during your childhood when you felt hurt. Bring to mind what you looked like during that time. Then, imagine you were able to meet this childhood version of yourself. What do you think this small child needed back then? Are you willing to give that child what he or she needs in this moment, if only in your imagination?
  6. Re-introduce yourself to your inner voice. Spend 30 seconds allowing your mind to just chatter on and see if you can really listen to what the mind is saying, as if this is a close friend you haven’t seen in years.
  7. Try out some of the self-compassion exercises by Kristen Neff.
  8. Imagine someone you care deeply for in their most painful moments. How would you want to be there for that person? What are some things you might say or do when you are with that person? Now, see if you can replace that someone with yourself.
  9. When you notice your mind criticizing you, no need to try fighting with it. Believe it or not, this is your mind’s way of letting you know something important is happening. Picture this inner critic as an infant or toddler trying to get its needs met. How does this change your relationship with your self-critic?
  10. If you’re anything like me when trying these exercises, the mind still judges and criticizes, like a bully who just won’t give up. The secret about bullies – they’re usually the ones who need to be cared for the most. So, when you notice the bully show up, give them some love too.

Fatherhood: Expectations vs Reality [Guest Blog]

In this guest blog, Dr. Kevin Hyde discusses his experience in becoming a father, and the struggles and feelings that come along with it.

I don’t know about you, but before I became a father I had visions of wrestling, playing catch in the backyard, and silly dad jokes that make everyone roll their eyes. As the father of two girls under the age of four, I can definitively say that, while those things have all happened, the reality of fatherhood has been very different from my original expectations.

For example, I came up with this blog idea as I was trying to shovel yogurt into the mouth of a two-year-old as quickly as possible so we could make it to church on time. Spoiler alert: we were late. Not in my original plan…

I know that I’m not alone in having real life laugh in the face of my dreams and expectations. In fact, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that we’ve ALL had that happen at some point in our lives. Parenting, and fatherhood in particular, just tends to be one of the most eye-opening examples.

We may or may not recognize it, but we all enter fatherhood with an agenda. Either we want to emulate our parents… or we want to be sure that our kids get a better experience than we had as children. But the experiences we remember that helped form our expectations of parenthood typically come from memories during grade school, pre-adolescent, or teenage years. We can’t remember what our parents were like during early childhood, and that’s probably a good thing!

The first thing we are faced with as fathers is how to love a wrinkly potato that provides no response other than to let you know that you have no idea what you’re doing so you should hand the spud back over to mommy. More than once I questioned whether I was ever going to figure out how to feed or comfort the baby.

But the good news is I was a diaper changing champion. It was like I was on the pit crew for the Daytona 500, which meant I got all sorts of accolades from those around us. That’s right, gentlemen, you change a diaper and you get accolades while your wife is lucky if she isn’t criticized for not having organically certified, reusable cotton baby wipes on her 24/7.

I never expected that it would be a struggle to try and connect with my child during the early months, but it was. My wife was the comforter, the source of food, and the one who recognized which cry meant which need was unmet. I was jealous of how close she was with our child… but I couldn’t tell that to anyone because, “men are tough, they figure things out.” Things would’ve been a little easier without that preconceived notion because I could’ve learned that I wasn’t alone. Now I know that many men feel exactly as I did.

I wasn’t actually alone, it just felt that way because my pride kept me from opening up to others!

Reality started matching up better with my expectations as our oldest turned one and became a serious daredevil who LOVED me throwing her up in the air, wrestling all around the house, and letting her climb trees in the backyard. My wife actually got jealous of the connection the baby and I developed during this period… so she demanded a second child.

Hey, for number two at least I was prepared for those early months, right? HA!

You’re probably beginning to notice a pattern. I hold some expectations in my mind of how something should go, and I end up shocked/frustrated/disappointed/hurt/angry/etc. Not a very fun pattern to be stuck in!

So what do I do about it now that I’ve got two toddlers?

I try very hard to stay engaged in the present moment. Granted it’s not always easy. I find my mindfulness meditation practice ebbs and flows just like my exercise routine. But I absolutely recognize a connection between feeling less stressed, anxious, and irritable when I’m more mindfully present with my family.

Even just five minutes of mindfulness meditation each day helps me respond better to the inevitable frustrations that arise from spilled milk, sibling arguments, or plans that need to be changed because of unexpected illness. I feel more fulfilled when I’m able to stay focused on playing with my kids, or really observing them while playing on their own in the backyard… instead of looking at my phone.

So if you are a fellow father, I would challenge you to put down the phone, turn off the TV, or turn away from whatever occupies most of your attention and see what happens when you truly engage with your kids in the present moment. You might find the kids obey a little more or even that your wife feels a little more seen. And a pretty nice bonus is that when your kids are grown up and out of the house, you’ll have no regrets about not spending enough time with them. Living out your values is never a bad thing.

Whether a situation meets your expectations or not, or whether another person would call the situation “good” or not, doesn’t make a lick of difference in what you and your family define as quality time. Don’t let those unexpectedly enjoyable moments continue to pass you by. Reality should be the only expectation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Kevin Hyde is a clinical psychologist licensed to practice in the state of Florida. He resides in Pinellas County with his wife and two young daughters. In his spare time, Dr. Hyde enjoys relaxing at the beach with family, watching Nationals baseball, baking bread, and keeping up with current events. He founded Pinellas Anxiety Specialists with the intention of providing high quality anxiety therapy to reduce the stress and anxiety that so many cope with on a daily basis.

Don’t Talk About It

When you’re a man dealing with emotional pain, you know the rules: Keep it to yourself, don’t bother anyone with it, and ride it out. The “it” I’m talking about is stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, fear of rejection, or a deep sense of emptiness. If you were raised to “be a man” in western culture, you are very familiar with the message: Don’t talk about it. 

The “Don’t talk about it” message might be the clearest for most men struggling with emotional pain but there are a few other messages underlying this one. For example, many men believe expressions of stoicism (which is really just lack of emotional expression), anger, frustration, and irritation are signs of a strong and powerful man, whereas expressions of sadness, loneliness, fear, anxiety, or any other painful emotion is a sign of weakness.

Another underlying message that might sit in the dark corners of a man’s mind include, “If I am weak, I will not be seen as good enough.” The kicker is, even acknowledging these messages can be viewed as a sign of weakness. So, they get buried but not forgotten. They tunnel so deep within the inner workings of men’s minds that they become entangled around his sense of identity.

However, the tiring attempts to suppress “weak” emotions come at a high cost. Men who are reluctant to express a wider range of emotions tend to have higher rates of behavioral health problems compared to men who are more expressive. This means men who do their best to not feel painful emotions are at higher risk of feeling painful emotions. This ironic twist can (and often does) turn into a vicious cycle, eventually leading to substance use, depression, and suicide. One study found that adolescents who restricted their emotions were eleven times more likely to show symptoms of depression, three times more likely to have serious suicidal thoughts, and twice as likely to attempt suicide. 

So, if you are a man, I challenge you to take a moment to explore the worth of emotional restriction. When you don’t talk about the things that bother you, notice if it brings you closer or further away from the people you care about. If you shove away the inner voice begging for warmth and compassion, does it make you feel better or worse? The message to be a strong and capable man is enticing and ever-present. It promises you will be worthy, accepted, and adored. But what if this narrative isn’t working the way it’s supposed to, and your very attempts at being strong is breaking you down? In those moments, can you find strength in the willingness to be weak?