Being Kinder To Yourself: Authentic Kindness Starts Within

You can’t reach your fullest capabilities of kindness without first being kinder to yourself.

This story is a personal reflection on kindness, exploring Maria’s journey from struggling to understand the concept of kindness to realizing its importance.

It delves into her experiences of being kind to others while neglecting self-kindness. Through anecdotes from her life, including their sports endeavours and professional challenges, Maria discusses the discovery that authentic kindness starts with being kind to oneself. The blog emphasizes that being kind to ourselves is essential to true kindness and human connection.

When John asked me to write a blog on kindness, I must be honest: I struggled. How personal would this blog be? The truth is, I didn’t know until today when I put pen to paper. I hope this blog resonates with some of you and some might find it helpful.

People have always commented on how kind I had been as a child, helping older people carry their shopping, looking after new pupils in my school, or spending breaks and lunchtime with those struggling with their studies or friendships.

However, kindness has always been foreign to me; is it not what people do anyway? Is it not just about being a decent human being? I was quite petite, skinny, courteous, and soft-spoken as a child. This earned me a nickname I detested: mouse… as quiet as a mouse…

You get the gist! Not many people knew what was going on behind this façade of mine. Outside of school, I pursued my other passion, which was sports. Highly competitive, disciplined, and hard-working, I gained myself another nickname: Storm. I didn’t mind this one as much, though I frequently wondered whether a storm was good or bad, as storms could bring damage and destruction. I kept on assuring myself that sometimes storms clear the space for something special to be created, for people to start again with all the past experiences and struggles washed away.

Maybe as a leader, I wouldn’t say I like the phrase We’ve always done it this way. Looking back, that nickname could have perfectly reflected my inner world. I was resilient and used to being alone. As an introvert, it suited me to the ground. Being in a very competitive sports environment made me even stronger. I made rapid progress on ice and off the ice, so it was no surprise that one day, I received an offer to join a prestigious boarding school for figure skaters. I loved being there; my time there challenged me and made me stronger and more determined. At the time, all the excellent training slots were allocated to the ice hockey players; I remember being in lessons or asleep at midnight when we would hear the call to get back on the ice.

We would leave our desks or not-so-comfy beds, get ready and train, train, train…

That resilience, discipline, and stubbornness developed through sport saw me through school and university. Having secured all A* in my A-levels and a first degree at the Uni, I was ready for the world. My journey in education has been challenging. Like many in our profession, I have had my share of ups and downs. I had to stand up and fight for our pupils; I had to stand up and fight for myself. I have hit many rock bottoms and had many successes, but I always hung on to the inner strength that I had.

Having witnessed many conversations that I always approached firmly and honestly but with kindness and empathy, one of my colleagues gave me a gift that made me chuckle deep inside. It was a white T-shirt with a butterfly and writing that said: They whispered to her: You cannot withstand the storm. She whispered back: I am the storm.

That gift triggered something inside me: I was tired… I was tired of being resilient, I was tired of being strong, I was tired of being the storm, and I was tired of being kind to others, which I felt was a natural thing to do.

That night, the night after, and the night later, I prayed for kindness for myself and received it most fantastically. I was on a train to deliver a training session when the phone rang. They are the caring, direct type who would not hold back. Their angry voices kept appearing and disappearing as the train zoomed through no-reception zones. I have not heard most of what they said, but I did hear the end: Do you even love yourself?

The truth was I didn’t; I hated myself. While I was kind to others, I would push myself to the limits, and when I didn’t quite get there, my inner voice would say: What is wrong with you? I showed no love, kindness or compassion to myself. That was the day when I realised a few things. Kindness comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes kindness is a friendly smile or a “hello”; sometimes kindness is an angry voice of a caring friend telling you to love yourself.

Most importantly, for me, kindness is an inner job. We must be kind to ourselves first; we must recognise that we are human; it’s okay to be a ‘mouse’ or a ‘storm’; these behaviours do not define us as a people: we are simply reacting to internal and external triggers. Authentic kindness is about connection, and the most critical connection we will ever have is with ourselves.

Conclusion: Being Kinder To Yourself

In the journey to understand kindness, I’ve discovered that it’s not just about outward gestures but a complex inner process.

While I’ve always been seen as kind externally, I realized that I neglected kindness towards myself. The realization came when a friend’s angry question confronted me: “Do you even love yourself?” It struck me that authentic kindness starts from within.

We must accept our own complexities, be it the ‘mouse’ or the ‘storm,’ and acknowledge that our behaviours don’t define our worth. True kindness encompasses connection; the most crucial connection is the one we form with ourselves. So, let’s remember kindness begins as an inside job before it can radiate outwardly.

Maria O’Neill
Twitter @Maria0Neill

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