The Best Thing We Can Do When We Hurt

Photo by Annie Spratt

Photo by Annie Spratt

When someone you care about is hurting, how do you respond? You feel for them, right? You try to be there for them. You say things like, “I am so sorry you have to go through this.” Or, “This must be hard.” Or, if you are like my kind, straight-talking brother-in-law, you say it as it is, “Oh boy, this sucks.”

When you hurt, what do you do?

The best thing we can do when we hurt is to be kind to ourselves. This advice sound nice, yet I think for most of us, if we are honest, this doesn’t come easily. If you are caregiver type like me, being there for others is easier than being there for myself. Greeting my own feelings with the same warmheartedness, that’s challenging.

Caring for others, we must learn to connect with our own feelings with kindness. We must learn to lower the volume of the all-to-familiar voice of blame, judgment and self-criticism, and listen to the tender voice of kindness. I know this can be scary. It’s scary because it is unfamiliar.

It’s easy to confuse being kind with being weak or selfish. I did, at first. Once you practice it, you come to understand that the opposite is true. Whenever I remember to be kind to myself, I am a better caregiver. I recognize my limits and I am more forgiving. It’s easier for me to be with others’ pain. (I am sure that if we as a society practiced kindness, we would treat our planet more kindly as well.)

We may think that we are not good enough and thus not worthy to treat ourselves kindly. This is painful. But kindness is not something that you earn. You don’t need make yourself into a better version 2.0 before you can be kind to yourself.  

A young, bright man who is a social worker told a group of us about simple ritual he does whenever he feels down and thinks he failed. He tenderly rubs the crown of his head like he would with a little boy and soothes himself with a quiet “there, there.”  When he told this story, all of us lit up with affectionate smiles. Kindness is contagious.

You can search the whole wide world, but you won’t find anyone more worthy of your love than yourself,” the Buddha said.

This is a radical statement, isn’t it?  We are okay as we are.

When you feel anxious, upset, angry or frustrated, I find the following simple steps helpful:

PAUSE...Connect with the feeling. Be aware of the sensations it creates in your body, and be aware of the thoughts that come along with it. Just give things space.  

ACKNOWLEDGE…Acknowledge that how or what you feel is entirely natural. Consider what would you say to a friend in the same situation. Something like, it’s okay, this is hard, or you tried your best, perhaps. Imagine telling yourself.

BE KIND…Feel the warmth around your heart and let it go out to the part of you that is hurting. Consider this, if even for a brief moment. Sit with it a bit longer, if you can. If the feeling is particularly strong, allow it to wash over you. Breathe. Whatever happens, be kind. 

When we hurt, the best and kindest thing we can do is to be kind to ourselves.