Why Do We Overlook Self-Kindness When It Comes to Our Mental Health?
When you’re struggling with your mental health, it can be difficult to cope with these kinds of cruel criticisms—and you’re not alone if these comments are coming from the person whose support you need the most: yourself.
When we polled the Shine community, 73.6% of our members said that one of the most difficult things when it comes to caring for their mental health is being kind to themselves.
While we often talk about the physical tactics to care for our mental health and how to get support from others, we don’t often talk about the bout of self-shame that can accompany us when we’re caring for our mental health.
It’s that stream of negative self-talk that runs through our heads, making us feel small and powerless in our journey to get better.
Self-shame is unrelentless in convincing us to don the label of “different” or “other” or “weak” because of our mental health struggles—and sometimes, it even subconsciously stops us from uncovering the best ways we can tend to our personal needs.
“Shame certainly gets in the way of taking care of ourselves because we start to build a message [of negativity],” Nedra Tawwab, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., tells Shine. That message often reinforces negative stories we tell ourselves, and it can stop us from recognizing that we deserve self-kindness.
Shame is a human emotion, and sometimes it can be helpful (like when it helps you recognize someone else’s boundary). But when it morphs into toxic shame or internalized shame, it can lead to feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness.
There’s one red flag that’s key to recognizing when shame becomes toxic, Tawwab says. “Unhealthy shame looks like a repeated message,” she says. “It’s that constant drag of ‘you’re bad,’ or ‘you’re not good enough’ or ‘you’re not worthy’—that’s unhealthy.”
Tawwab explains that if you start experiencing that unhealthy shame for a long period of time (a week or more), that’s a sign to take it on. Why: When we operate from a place of self-kindness instead of self-shame, it becomes easier for us to cope with tough situations and soothe ourselves in the process.
Here are some tips to get back on your own team and embrace self-kindness when you’re caring for your mental health.
Challenge Your Thoughts With Self-Talk Swaps
Self-shame is powered by negative thoughts—and these criticisms can often stem from the stigma around mental health that exists in our society.
No one else is struggling—why are you? You’re weak if you feel this way.
Try challenging those thoughts—and remember that they aren’t the sum total of who you are. Take a moment to stop these thoughts in their tracks and uncover reasons why they’re false.
No one else is struggling—why are you? Mental illnesses affect 1 in 4 people globally—even if it’s not being openly discussed in your network, you’re far from alone in needing to care for your mental health.
You’re weak if you feel this way. No, you’re not. Mental illness is just that—an illness that requires care and treatment like any other illness. It’s not something you can simply fix by wishing so, and it is not your fault.
It’s easier said than done—but Tawwab suggests asking yourself these two questions next time you’re feeling up for a challenge:
●︎ Would I say this to a friend?
●︎ What would people think if they heard me say this out loud to myself?
It’s OK To Aim For Neutral
When we put pressure on ourselves to love where we’re at, it can be...overwhelming.
While self-love can definitely be a goal to strive towards, it’s important to remember that just liking—or feeling neutral—about yourself is OK, too. It’s just one way to practice self-acceptance.
Similar to the concept of body neutrality, self-neutrality helps you build up to self-compassion. It involves accepting yourself as you are, with as much objectivity as you can muster.
The key to self-neutrality is exercising your impartiality and letting go of how you think you should be feeling about something, and honoring it for what it is.
To get started, try looking at yourself and your thoughts as if you were a neutral observer. Just examine how things are at face value. For example: Try thanking yourself simply for just...existing.
Rewrite Your Story
We often get wrapped up in the stories of ourselves that we create—and most of the time, they aren’t really true or describe who we are as a whole person. Sometimes these stories are hinged on things we’ve done wrong or wins we haven’t quite reached yet.
What does the story you tell yourself look like? If it’s full of negative descriptors, try challenging and rewriting that. Sometimes the narratives we tell ourselves aren’t fully fledged, but rather just a lot of thoughts that build into an idea of who we think we are.
For example: It can sound like “I’ll never get better” or “I am not good enough” thoughts that shape overall ideas of ourselves. Here are questions to help you begin the rewrites.
●︎ Why have you told the story in this way?
●︎ How would you want someone else to tell this story?
●︎ What do you want to learn about what you’ve experienced?
When you take time to examine the story you tell yourself, you’re also helping future you learn the best way to lean into self-kindness in the future.
Building a foundation of acceptance can help you overcome challenges—especially when you remember that you are worthy of self-kindness.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, know that seeking help is a strength—not a weakness. If you or someone you care about needs help, text 741741 to talk with a crisis counselor at Crisis Text Line—it's free, confidential, and available at all hours.
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