This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme is #KindnessMatters. According to mentalhealth.org, the theme of kindness is more important than ever at this current time as “protecting our mental health is going to be central to us coping with and recovering from the coronavirus pandemic”. Elaborating further, “kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is the cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health” – those are big statements!
Kindness, it would seem, is a pretty big deal. Not long ago, social media saw the trending of #bekind following the tragic suicide of Caroline Flack. I was deeply saddened by the news, as were many people. The hashtag was a positive way for people to demonstrate their empathy. I remember, at the time, holding a mixture of feelings to the words ‘Be Kind’. There was a part of me that liked the sentiment but another part of me felt disappointed; I felt deflated that collectively we were asking one another to be kind, a core principle that facilitates joy and growth, and that we needed a reminder.
As a counsellor, the idea of kindness often presents itself in therapy. Sometimes people feel they need kindness, sometimes people are confused as to what kindness is. Being kind at a basic level is (as according to the Oxford Dictionary) “the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate”. I feel there is more to kindness because, as with any human behaviour, it is complex and subjective
I associate kindness with compassion; what strikes me the most when working in therapy and when I have reflected on self is that humans tend to find it easier to be kind to others, than they do to themselves. In fact, when I ask people if they are kind to themselves, this often causes confusion, sometimes pain. Growing up, we are mostly encouraged to be kind. Usually these lessons involve other people, we are told it is kind to share our toys, that it is un-kind to leave people out of our friendship groups, etc. These are great lessons. However, I believe it would be great if we could also teach that kindness to self is paramount for emotional wellbeing.
There isn’t room here to analyse the vast amounts of research surrounding kindness, compassion and altruism. For now, let us go with a simple; kindness is a good thing, it brings people together. When people are kind to us, if we can accept we deserve kindness, it can be wonderful. Being kind to others can help all parties involved. Kindness is fundamentally a positive.
Kindness Begins with Me
It is healthy to explore any behaviour and feeling; when we look at being kind, when we explore what it means to us in a safe space and without judgment, we may be surprised at the depth the seemingly simple idea of being kind can take us to. Are we being kind whilst being true to ourselves and respecting our own boundaries? Do we show ourselves the same kindness and compassion we would show to a stranger or friend? Can we accept kindness from others?
Journaling, self-talk, therapy, speaking with people who we feel are supportive are just some of the ways in which we can explore and grow. We may discover that at times we have been un-kind to ourselves, that we have treated ourselves badly or put others needs before our own. To that I would say try to remember that it is okay, try to show yourself kindness.
Being kind is important. When we are kind to others whilst respecting our own needs, we feel good. When we are kind to ourselves, we become happier and our wellbeing improves. Being kind to self is never selfish, it is self-care.
What do you think kindness is? Do you have a story to tell of when someone was kind to you? Perhaps you carried out a simple act of kindness and this brought you joy? What are the ways you think you could practice self-care and kindness towards yourself?