Skip to content ↓

Be kind to yourself

A neuroscientist and a Buddhist monk discuss the role of compassion in mental health. No, this isn’t the start of an unusual joke, it’s a very helpful book called Mindful Compassion by Paul Gilbert & Choden.

Gilbert suggests (p115) creating a diagram of three circles - three emotional systems. They are groups of emotions that have particular functions. You can see them in the diagram.

He suggests that we list our activities in each category and see in which circle we spend most time and effort and then ask where we would wish to cultivate more time / activity. It is not that any one is better than another, but they need to be in balance. Often the affiliative circle, which is much more about being than doing, is much smaller.

Which led me to the thought: what would life be like if we gave more time to kindness, connectedness and quietness and a little less to wanting, pursuing and consuming?

You might say that there is a false dichotomy here. I can be kind while pursuing; I can be connected while consuming. But that makes the softer “being” emotional circle a servant of the other two. How would our lives be different if we made compassion the driver of our behaviour? This means compassion towards ourselves as well as towards others.

Kindness or compassion towards ourselves is not a culturally valued response. We are quick to be internally judging or disparaging of ourselves. We know our own weaknesses all too well, and often find it hard to forgive ourselves for being ... well .... normal, or ordinary! Kristin Neff, in her book: Self Compassion, encourages us to actively care for ourselves in the way that we would care for a family member or a friend.

Being kind in our thoughts and actions towards ourselves is not selfish, it is caring for ourselves. It releases oxytocin into the brain and gives a feeling of warmth and acceptance, it reduces fear and anxiety and it counters stress and lowers blood pressure. 

So as the tempo of work and social life picks up towards Christmas, ask yourself: what would be a compassionate choice to make right now ... be kind to yourself.

Reverend Hewitt, Well-Being Coach