Being Kind to Oneself

Those four words in the title have almost become buzzwords for those of us who have been seeking knowledge through philosophy or through enlightenment. And yet it amazes me how hard it is to be kind to oneself. Over 15 years ago, when I was struggling through some issues of identity, I went to seek help from a great therapist. She told me that I was spending all my time trying to please others, and that I needed to spend some time alone doing something I totally enjoy, selfishly each week for at least a half day. She gave me a time frame because she knew that I would have a hard time just creating time for myself, so planning a half day was her way of saying, schedule it in your week.

There is a lot of guilt in taking time for oneself. I think this is especially true for women, who tend to be the caregivers in most families. And then to add the requirement that we be kind to ourselves, well, that seems like pure indulgence, and everyone knows indulgence is selfish. And so goes the dilemma of being kind to ourselves.

But we know that if we are not kind to ourselves, our ability to express kindness to others is insincere. We become the martyr, and martyrdom is overrated.

Growing up in a Catholic family, I have to say that the martyr was something we admired. After all, most of the Saints were martyrs, dying for their faith. Their selfless acts of kindness were examples we were raised to admire. But I think, somewhere along the spans of time, we forget that the Saints were people too. They may have been selfless in some parts of their life, but that did not make them perfect. Mother Theresa is one example. Most people see her as the most selfless and kind person in the world, but most people are not aware of the criticisms against her. She was criticized for the care she gave her patients. Because she felt suffering brought one closer to Jesus, it is reported she often withheld pain pills for her patients. The living conditions for the poor were very unclean. The millions of dollars that came in from donations often went toward opening more convents and missionaries rather than helping the people she worked with.

I am not saying that Mother Theresa was not an overall good person. What I am saying is that martyrdom is overrated. Jesus himself sacrificed his life for his faith, but he also was kind to himself. He helped the poor, but he did not live among them. He took time for himself each day, to speak with God. To keep and build his relationships with those around him. He planned his time for healing the sick into his day.

We can think about our own lives. Do we take time for ourselves? Are we kind to ourselves? Or do we value being a martyr?

In my house, there is a motto the kids know by heart: If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. It’s my way of telling them, I can’t spend my day meeting all your needs. I gotta take care of myself too.

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