Be kind to myself… NOT!
My adult self has no need of my own kindness. My child self is desperate for it.
Kristin van Tilburg’s column “Why You Should Stop Talking to Yourself Like That…” exemplifies one of the most popular themes of self-help advice, especially among women — that self-care begins with self kindness.
My experience is much different.
It may be that my experience is more typical of men and Kristin’s is more typical of women, but the point remains that I motivate myself with exactly the kind of self talk that Kristin’s column suggests I avoid.
For example, when I’m in my cardio ballet class trying to motivate myself to do one more pushup or one more jump, I tell myself I’m a fat, lazy, ignorant, worthless piece of s**t who doesn’t deserve the comfort of the yoga mat or the affections of my Lover.
We often see this type of motivational technique in male-dominated cultures like high contact sports and military training.
The drill sergeant in the opening scene of Full Metal Jacket was a real drill sergeant. Here’s his dramatization of how he prepared young men to train for war, which was largely unscripted:
Many young men growing up the in United States have had less dramatic, less exaggerated, but analogous experiences.
Sometimes, the yelling and screaming is not laden with profanity and insults.
Sometimes, it seems indistinguishable from real threats of physical abuse.
No matter what the script, none of these effective motivational techniques can be confused with kindness. Yet, these are approximations of the voices I keep inside my head that raise my performance and concentration peak levels.
In fact, I can’t think of a single good reason why anyone should bother being kind to me. As an educated, middle-aged, middle class white male, I’m in an extraordinarily privileged position. As Louis CK says, “You can’t even hurt my feelings.”
Yet… I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something to Kristin’s advice. It feels like kindness to myself should be important.
Only recently have I figured it out.
While my adult self has no need of kindness, I still carry the memory of a traumatized little child in my brain and body.
It is our remembered child selves who need our kindness most.
The idea that my remembered child might benefit from my own kindness was made clear to me in this video from Jason’ Silva’s YouTube series ‘Shots of Awe’:
The story we tell ourselves about our trauma may be more important than the trauma itself.
Now, rather than being kind to my adult self, I focus on re-imagining the traumatic moments from my childhood and reparenting myself through those moments with all the kindness I can muster.