Written by Jill Schwartz
We don't talk much about being gentle with ourselves as the best way to live a happy, productive and fulfilling life. Rather, the world promotes striving, forcing, controlling, manipulating, judging and criticizing ourselves instead. We think this way of thinking and being will motivate us, help us be productive and achieve our goals more effectively, but it actually has the opposite effect. Evidence has shown that criticizing and judging ourselves makes us feel like nothing we do is ever good enough and contributes to a lack of motivation, depression, anxiety, addictions, procrastination, perfectionism, and low self-esteem.
By being gentle with ourselves, there is more of a chance we will be motivated to achieve our goals, and enjoy the process. Being gentle and loving with ourselves gives us energy, strength, peace, joy and love. This is the only environment that will foster health, mentally, emotionally and physically. The bible says, 'Rather it shall be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.' - 1 Peter 3:4.
If a child fails at something, you wouldn't berate them for it since it will make them feel worse than they already do and will foster low self-esteem. The child internalizes the message that they are not good enough and they will connect their worth to what they do rather than who they are. You would help them understand that failure is a necessary part of life and growth and their only responsibility is to do their best, which is a success in and of itself. Instead, tell them they are worthy no matter what they do (behavior). Some behaviors are not good and require consequences, but that is separate from WHO they are. A nurturing parent would love them the same regardless of their behavior. A healthy parent would teach them how to learn from the failure and then let it go. We need to use this same approach as adults, because that child is still in and part of us. The first step is becoming aware of our negative, critical thoughts without judgement and the second step is replacing those thoughts with more realistic, positive, gentler ones.
Being gentle with ourselves also includes acknowledging our feelings, no matter what they are, or whether we think they are "acceptable" or not. It's necessary to work through and process feelings in order to learn what they have to teach us. Journaling thoughts and feelings is a great way to do this and increase self awareness.
Acknowledging our successes, no matter how small, is another way to be loving and gentle with ourselves. These are a couple of ways we can be free to be more integrated and whole individuals that will lead to greater productivity, motivation and emotional balance. Even the bible talks about the importance of being gentle with ourselves. 'Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.' - Colossians 3:12.
Achieving gentleness with ourselves can be difficult if you grew up in a family that was very negative and critical, but it is possible if you believe it is. It takes work, but will be well worth the effort in creating a joy-filled, successful life filled with love and peace.
Please contact me and I will share how I can collaborate with you towards a gentler, more self compassionate life you only dreamed was possible.
Peace and blessings,
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Maple Counseling Center
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