After brainstorming ideas to write about for this blog, I began to reflect on what they all had in common. Obviously they were connected through the blog theme of kindness and empathy, but I also discovered that they each revolved around what we can do for people and things other than ourselves. We often think about kindness as being energy and efforts projected outward from ourselves. Holding the door open for someone, listening to a friend in need, buying a coffee for a stranger; these are all amazing small acts of kindness that we do for others which can significantly impact someone’s day! Further on in this blog, we will be diving into more difficult acts of kindness that require a lot of soul searching, as well as making tough, but extremely worthwhile decisions for the benefit others. I believe that in order to be strong and have a firm foundation during these times of choosing kindness (which may not be quite as simple as holding the door open for someone) we need to first begin with ourselves.
First things first, in order to be kind to others, we must begin with being kind to ourselves. Now, I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes at this point and thinking, “here comes another girl telling us to go show ourselves some ‘self-love’ by having a candle lit bubble bath with a glass of rosé.” As much I love having candle lit bubble baths with a glass of rosé (or two) every so often, I firmly believe that self-love and being kind to ourselves goes way deeper than face masks, treating ourselves to our favourite junk food, and bubble baths. As much as we all love these indulgences, it is critical that we dig deeper than this. However, a lot of people, including myself, don’t want to dig deeper than this because it is extremely difficult. Just thinking about the lies and negativity we tell ourselves everyday can be overwhelming, depressing, painful, and downright exhausting. Don’t even get me started about talking to someone else about them! Although this is the case, let me explain how being vulnerable by expressing and reflecting on these thoughts can be the most profound expression of ‘self-love’ there is.
Dr. Brené Brown (A.K.A the woman who changed my life) is a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent the last two decades studying courage, vulnerability, empathy, and shame. I first came across her TEDxHouston talk in one of my university classes and since then, I have been utterly obsessed with her and her work. I highly encourage you to watch her TEDxHouston talk she did in 2011 on the power of vulnerability, and then follow it with watching her TED talk she did in 2012 on listening to shame. These two talks alone changed my life, then I read her book, Daring Greatly, and my life changed yet again. I hope I can do her justice by attempting to explain her work and how putting it into practice is essential for being kind to ourselves.
A key piece to Dr. Brown’s research is shame. Shame is that voice we hear in our heads telling us constantly we’re “not good enough” which, as Dr. Brown says, can also be disguised as, “who do you think you are.” These nasty thoughts, which we’ve all had at some point or another (if not every day), are a result of being afraid of disconnection with others around us, because that is what shame is; the fear of disconnection. After years of research on shame, Dr. Brown found it’s kryptonite, and that is vulnerability and empathy. In her 2012 TED talk, Dr. Brown explained how if you put shame in a petri dish, it requires three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgement. However, if you douce that same amount of shame with empathy, it cannot survive. In order to douce our shame with empathy, we must be vulnerable and bring it to the surface. This can look like talking with someone you trust, therapy, or even just being honest with yourself. Lean into the discomfort of vulnerability because it is the only way to kill our shame, and killing our shame is the first step of being truly kind to ourselves.
Like I said before, sometimes being kind (especially to ourselves) requires making tough, but extremely worthwhile decisions. Acknowledging and recognizing our shame is one of the most vulnerable things we could ever do. I never said being vulnerable was easy, but according to Dr. Brown, it is absolutely necessary to live a wholehearted life, which I totally agree with. We are all imperfect, broken, and vulnerable people. If you can recognize these things, but on top of that know from the depths of your soul that you are worthy of love and belonging, you are on the journey of self-love and kindness my friend; and I say ‘journey’ because that is exactly what self-love and kindness is. You will have ups and downs during it (heck, I have them everyday), but that is called being human. I wish you all a beautiful and fulfilling journey of self-love and kindness!
I challenge you to reflect on the ways you treat other people on days where your shame is active and in the forefront of your mind compared to the days where you are practicing this kind of ‘self-love’ discussed. The results may surprise you!