Be kind . . . even to yourself
September 2, 2019
“Don’t be so hard on yourself.” A friend offered me these kind words after I had finished criticizing myself over my inability to complete a project in a timely manner. Long after our conversation ended, I was grateful that my friend had not heard the long-running, and mostly critical, internal conversation I have with myself often about the many perceived failures and imperfections of my life. As I thought about that moment in our conversation, I understood for the first time just how harmful ingrained patterns of self-criticism are.
Most of us are troubled when we see someone speak harshly to another person. Even without physical contact, the forcefulness of the words makes the exchange feel violent, like someone is being punched. In fact, we wince or groan as the words are lobbed back and forth because we know they hurt. To avoid subjecting others to this sort of pain, many of us have learned to control our tongues (at least some of the time). Interestingly, we are not as careful when speaking to ourselves because we are somehow oblivious to how much our own words can wound us. Unkind expressions such as “I suck,” “I’m a loser,” “I’m stupid,” or “I’ll never amount to anything,” are violent, even when heard only in our heads. When we say these things, we might as well be punching ourselves in the face repeatedly. Such words not only sour our moods, they hurt us, compromise our mental health and diminish the quality of our lives.
The book of Proverbs reminds us that “gentle words bring life and health” (15:4) and that “kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (16:24). So be kind, even to yourself.