Shoshona Pascoe, MFT
Kindness is a quality, an attitude toward others and also toward ourselves. Its presence or absence in the psychotherapy room impacts the process of growth and change in a profound way. No matter if the issue requiring attention is stress related imbalance, relationship problems, or anxiety and depressive tendencies, the field of kindness is a part of therapy. Most would agree that kindness is a good thing, but the hard driving push to show up for our lives in this modern world may delegate the cultivation of kindness to a low priority.
In the absence of a kind attitude of inquiry, the inner critic is king. This is the inner dialogue that each of us has creatively compiled over the course of our lives. The contributions come from societal values, the competitive edge it takes to engage in the tumultuous and turmoil filled modern world, the demand to be the best, be more. They come from authority figures in our lives, messages we integrated when we were developmentally receptive about our worth and value. And I believe they come from our basic temperament; some of us have a well-developed capacity for inner criticism. Have you ever seen a 2 year-old who isn't content with his scribble drawing but wants to draw a boat like his older brother? These inner messages criticize, judge, and keep us from a sense of appreciation for our efforts and abilities. And they turn us from the acceptance of ourselves, especially when our lives are not as we would like, that could lead to real and necessary transformation. A pioneer in psychology Carl Rogers stated it this way: "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change".
The cultivation of a keen sense of kindness toward the self is an antidote for this tearing down of esteem that the inner critic's messages create. And it is not as easy as it sounds, for it inevitably evokes all the harsh habitual ways we view ourselves and those close to us. I encourage a practice of kindness in my clients, for it truly requires practice. What would it be like to be our own best friend, an arm around our shoulders, attentive and interested? And that does not exclude qualities of firmness; in fact it encourages a clear view where courageous decisions and choices can be made. Without a self-relationship built on kindness, a sense of deep personal deficiency and insecurity may grow, no matter the achievements in life.
The following excerpts from the poem "Kindness" by Naomi Shihab Nye have always touched me, and invited a connection to the universal qualities of kindness:
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
It seems the difficult passages in life open us to feel the tenderness of our human journey in a collective way if we don't harden into bitterness and contraction. And she continues:
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
Kindness becomes a choice and we learn how precious it is.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
When we cultivate that kind of compassion for our suffering we infuse our lives with a caring and attention that opens up possibility for true and lasting change.
for the full text of "Kindness" by Naomi Shihab Nye.