Kindness is a virtue that we should bestow to others. We offer support, guidance and warmth to our peers and loved ones, as well as displaying compassion to strangers on the bus who need a seat.
But what about the kindness that we should demonstrate to ourselves? What of the love and compassion that we should turn inwards. Should we not attempt to bring some sort of calmness to the craziness that often defines our lives.
– Again notice my use of should.
But kindness to ourselves? Loving our inner being and showing ourselves compassion? What is that? Doesn’t that seem, well a little selfish, gluttonous even?
In my naivety, I believe that caring for myself involves the basics of human life, you know brushing ones teeth and taking the odd multi vitamin. The full height of kindness to myself is probably reached by getting my hair coloured.
But to be kind to myself, well that requires some thought. Kindness towards others is almost self-defining and not something I think I struggle with, although others may disagree!
Having developed an eating disorder at 19 and continuing to struggle with the complexities of the illness, I recognise too quickly how easily I criticise myself and my condition. I’m hard on myself to the point of exhaustion. Expecting better, wanting more and always, always striving for achievement.
When my anorexia was in its infantile days, I used food and a gruelling regime of rules to keep me in a deluded state of comfort. I was manipulating my own thoughts, rewarding myself not with kindness but with restriction.
I didn’t deserve to eat, I couldn’t eat.
The relationship that I built was with my anorexia. I showed her kindness daily- I listened to her, followed her guidance and put her needs always above my own intuition. I showed her great compassion by bequeathing her every demand, putting her before the thoughts and concerns of those around me.
Was my kindness reciprocated? I wasn’t naive, I wasn’t blinded either but what I definitely was, was incredibly unwell. I found a new friendship in anorexia, a friendship that I believed to be one that was keeping me safe. That was the form of kindness that I craved and that I thought I was getting.
Obviously though anorexia wasn’t showing me any sort of kindness, in fact kindness was the last thing I was experiencing.
I felt unworthy; it, she, the illness, made me feel unworthy of first of all food, then enjoyment and then of life in its totality. Worthless, that was the next feeling. My sole worth was in the pursuit of anorexia. Anything and everything else paled to insignificance. But regardless, I would continue to offer kindness to those around me going to great lengths to protect them from my own illness. My way of showing them kindness was to protect them from myself.
The next was a feeling of complete exasperation, of being totally at my wits end and consumed. Anorexia had eclipsed me, put me in its shadow and there was no light to be found no matter how long I walked for, no matter how long I wondered through utter wilderness.
I find that now I have a somewhat distorted way of thinking about how I show kindness to others. Kindness should be through the heart, a natural response to those we hold dear. I however feel that after putting those people through so much hell and turmoil in the form of my illness, the only way I can show kindness is through doing, buying and being. I have to do things in order to prove myself not only as their friend but also as indicators of my kindness.
Is this kindness in its purest form, or is it more contrived than that? We must remember that by nature we are human beings not ‘Human Doings’ and that means that kindness must start from simply being as opposed to proactively proving ourselves to be worthy through kindness.
There is a beautiful quote, which sums up this article perfectly:
“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the the blind can see”. Mark Twain
It doesn’t take a form of prescribed action or require a harboured effort.
But kindness starts within. It starts with listening to the needs of your body, soul and intuition. Self care is an inherent part of displaying that kindness to yourself and whilst at first this may take effort, over time it should become habitual and almost second nature. The kindness that we show to ourselves is paramount to the building and maintaining of our friendships that are valuable and sacred.
Be conscious of the kindness shown by a mental illness, it is not your friend and manipulation is as clever as it is deceitful- Kind it is not.
Do something kind to yourself today- if you are struggling with your mental health, please get in touch- because you deserve to be heard.