Be kind to yourself


27 Apr 2022

We need to cease highlighting our flaws and understand that God’s love makes us perfect.

There is an insight into the human psyche offered in a quote that seems ageless – ‘I am my own worst critic’. I wonder why we are so critical of ourselves. What is it about our mind, or society, that makes us focus on the imperfections and mistakes over our totality? It does not seem to matter what age, culture, gender or race a person is, we all devalue our worth and fail to offer ourselves the kindness and charity we go out of our way to offer others. How can we be whole when we pull ourselves apart?

We spend much of our lives worried about what others think of us, and wondering howe we can create an image of ‘perfection’ that we believe may be more acceptable to others. As a concept this approach is flawed as we are not perfect and can never be in this life. But we have been created through God’s perfect love and therefore whole and complete just as we are. We are imperfectly perfect in this life, but we find that contradictory truth too paradoxical to understand. When we critique ourselves we observe ourselves from the view point of the ‘bad spirit’. Being unkind or devaluing our worth is not of God. Yet in knowing that we make mistakes and cannot measure up to the physical standards society projects on us we focus on the ways in which we are not perfect rather than how perfectly we have been made.

Uniqueness of others

When we live with a desire to seek the affirmation of others, we highlight aspects that are endorsed, construct elements that we lack and spurn the traits considered inferior. The irony is that we are drawn to the uniqueness of others, even though they also judge themselves and present a less than accurate image of who they truly are. When we affirm others for their gifts, they, like us, often deflect the compliment and draw focus to their imperfections.

These observations do not negate the need to be humble and to seek to become more whole throughout our lives, but we do need to learn how to be charitable to the person in most need of it – ourselves.

To be able to transform our thought process we need to consider ourselves from God’s point of view. When God views us, he sees and accepts us as we are. He is merciful and compassionate. Knowing that we are not perfect and loving us actually perfects us. How can this compassion be practised so we to can see and celebrate what he sees?

God’s view of the world

Consider a time when you experienced a profound or transcendent experience. When in your life did you encounter a moment that was whole and perfect? Reflect on this experience. What occurred that made the moment perfect? Consider this experience again from another point of view and look for the imperfections. In considering the imperfections is that moment now less superb? I am sure your answer was, ‘no’. This is how you can learn to view the world as God does.

The real skill and the transformative practice is to apply this approach to the way in which you view yourself.

When you pause to contemplate yourself in this way you must begin by being intentionally kind. Accept all of you. Do not judge, just observe. You are who you are, and while there may be some things that should be adjusted, these points need to be discerned without prejudice and must be weighed against your perfect self – your soul. In being kind you will begin to strip away the critical and unnecessary judgments that obscure your vision.

Essence of charity

Kindness is in essence charity – it is essential but also finite. Kindness does not bring about lasting change. To allow oneself to be transformed we need to bring about justice.

South African theologian Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died 26 December 2021, offers a vivid metaphorical image of this need in saying, ‘There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.’

Justice is more difficult than kindness as it forces us to identify and remove the destructive thoughts that drive our negative self-talk and develop the courage to remove the masks we wear that hide our vulnerability.

To be true to our perfect and eternal self we must enter into a challenging voyage of self-awareness and acceptance. Developing the practice of observing non-judgmentally is the essence of the secular practice of mindfulness. In overlaying our spiritual beliefs we can align our observation point with God’s.

Beyond the flaws

The Ignatian value of detachment is an essential element of this method. One must be comfortable with leaving behind what is not helpful in expressing one’s true self. Those who love us also view us in this way. They see beyond our flaws and through the false or exaggerated aspects we hide behind, and they love us all the same.

As you move through this autumn season, which coincides with Lent, be intentional in your desire to be transformed. Be comfortable in knowing that the authentic you is perfect and loved. Also be aware that the things that you will find need adjustment are the things that are not truly you.

Have courage and let go of all that is limiting the expression of who you truly are. With this you will not only be able to offer kindness to yourself, but you will ensure justice, wholeness and perfection illuminate our world. Shine brightly.

This article first appeared in the autumn 2022 edition of Madonna magazine.

Brendan Nicholls is the liturgy coordinator at St Ignatius, Geelong.
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