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Beginner's Guide to Being Kind to Yourself

With so much content online, I’ll frequently lose track of where certain ideas come from. One of the posts that totally resonated was some version of the following: “If someone in your life talked to you the way you talk to yourself, you would have left them long ago.” (From Carla Gordon)

Maybe you can relate, and for our purposes, I wanted to share a strategy to address that negative self-talk and the spiral that may grow and become more and more difficult to control. We have a variation of a loving-kindness meditation that I’ve found really helpful and involves a sort of bypass.

In my case, that inner voice tends to be cruel; it tells me that I’m unlovable and that I don’t deserve happiness for one reason or another. It contributes to feeling like I’m not enough and that the world is passing me by. It also serves to distract me from those positive things that are also going on at any given time.

My amazing therapist has explained that this inner monologue comes from internalized messages (both perceived and actual) from childhood. No matter where these messages first came from, and although they may have concluded at some point in the past, the grooves have been worn deep and a pattern can continue into adulthood that can be hard to move on from.

The idea of meditation may strike people differently. Attempting it reminds me of showing up to my first jiu jitsu class, landing mid-way through a particular curriculum. I remember being unsure of the context, what came before or after a particular set of movements. It’s easy to feel like an outsider until you put in that time and gain a wider view.

This technique begins with the standard setup, sitting comfortably in a relatively quiet setting.

Hold an image of someone you know who loves you. This person may be a friend or family member (even the dog or a cat!) I've always placed my sister, Dawn, in this role. Think of this particular being and wish them some variation of the following:

May you be happy

May you be healthy

May you be free from suffering

May you live in peace

As you feel your heart open and soften, imagine this person looking back at you and wishing you the same in return. They see you with the innocence of a child at first, then grown and carrying such a heavy burden. This person wishes you all of these same things, to be safe, to be happy. Picture them with a hand over your heart, holding space and love for you. Gradually you may start to take this in. With as little effort as it takes to offer these people such compassion, love and kindness, maybe you can begin to wish that for yourself as well.

You can find different versions of this online (written, via audiobook, YouTube or podcasts). This technique is referred to as either ‘Loving-kindness’ or ‘Metta’ meditation. I prefer teachings by Jack Kornfield and Sharon Salzberg. A by-product of this technique may lead to those moments (or hours, days, and weeks!) where you find it especially difficult to love yourself. In my case, I’ll sometimes reference the past, feelings of guilt or shame that may persist over everything else. This is an opportunity to practice loving even THAT PART and work on a little bit of forgiveness. Consider this an invitation to practice being a little bit kinder to yourself!

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