The Two Sides of Kindness: Perspectives From the Counselor’s Couch

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“Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart.” Proverbs 3:3.

One reason it’s disappointing for me to watch the news is all the mudslinging and disagreements from every corner of the ring. I listen to people claiming to have the answers to the world’s problems and asserting their solution is the only way. The news can be quite informative, but how is it that I don’t hear or see more about the good people are doing?

There are moments in life when our community faces adversity and uncertainty. During these times, many will choose to rise to the occasion and spread their loyalty and kindness to others in need. About a week ago, my wife and I ran into a problem of running out of an essential product that couldn’t be found in stores or the internet. No, it wasn’t toilet paper. We were down to our last few baby wipes for our twin boys. The irrational and impatient version of me wanted to yell, “When are these boys going to tell us when they need to use the potty? Why don’t they get it yet?”

My wife reached out through social media to see if there were any stores that were stocked with baby wipes. Everywhere we looked, all essential need products were sold out. Thankfully, we had several friends nearby who gave us a few packs of their baby wipes. My wife’s friends in Alabama and Virginia even offered to mail us wipes. We were so blessed by these acts of kindness.

The same day we were in need of something as small as baby wipes, a mother and her daughter were riding their bicycles in our neighborhood, when the mother fell and broke her foot. Fortunately, loyal community members rushed in to display kindness, as they stopped to aid the mother and daughter. One family helped by taking the daughter home, while another neighbor helped the mother to her feet and lifted her bicycle into the back of his truck. He also gave her a pair of crutches. A group of random people came together to help and show their kindness to a mother and daughter that recently moved to the community.

Showing kindness is a wonderful thing, right? When we express kindness and compassion, it makes those receiving these acts feel good, as well as those providing these selfless acts. But what if you’re not in a good place to show kindness and compassion? Some of us in the “helping” profession know how rewarding it is to be compassionate and kind, but when it’s time to leave the office to be with our loved ones, we find it hard to be kind and compassionate towards ourselves.

Look in the mirror and ask yourself the following question, “What are you doing to show compassion and kindness to yourself?”

We’ve all heard the Golden Rule as told by Jesus Christ, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, treat others as you would want others to treat you. In the book, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core to Calm, Strength, and Happiness, Dr. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., talks about this Golden Rule as a two-way street: we should first do unto ourselves, so we can do unto others. So again, what does it mean to be kind and compassionate towards yourself?

This two-way street also applies to mental health professionals. During my master’s program, I learned about Murray Bowen, a psychiatrist and creator of Family Systems Theory. His concept is called differentiation of self—or the development of maintaining a solid sense of self. For marriage and family therapy students, we were challenged to explore some of the areas Bowen taught in his theory such as exploring our family of origin and how our past can influence our maturation, autonomy, and how we interact in our relationships. Our test was to explore these areas of our life through the use of such tools like the genogram, i.e., a family tree.

For me, I learned that my mishandling of conflicts, which led to anxiety and anger, were all emotions modeled to me when I was young as a way to deal with conflict. As I broke down the anger and anxiety, I discovered these feelings came from a place of my parents wanting me to always succeed, which lead to a fear of failing if I didn’t meet their high expectations. By exploring these areas of my family of origin, I learned to have more grace for myself and realize I can have no expectations at all and hope for the best, whether I pass or miss it by one point, or whether I get that dream job, or come short to a candidate with more experience. As I accepted that I didn’t have to be perfect, I learned to be an effective clinician. So how can you apply this into your life?

Just as I have a duty to care for my clients with kindness, compassion, and empathy, I should also show kindness, caring, and compassion towards myself. If things don’t go according to plan, we tend to be hard on ourselves. Statements like “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m a failure” become statements that further decrease our self-worth. The first thing to remember is to be mindful and stay present. Dr. Hanson mentions in his book helpful ways to remember to treat yourself with respect and compassion by writing down simple statements such as “I am on my own side” or “I’m taking a stand for myself” or “I matter, too.” He then encourages you to read the statements aloud to yourself or put them somewhere you’ll see them each day.

The goal of this activity is to become mindful of your emotions and physical sensations. As you recite and practice these statements, you’ll begin to rewrite the false narratives created in your brain into a narrative that gives inner strength and self-compassion.

According to the research conducted by Kristin Neff and others, self-compassion makes a person more resilient. Self-compassion lowers self-criticism and increases self-worth.

So what are the facts about kindness? Many studies show kindness is contagious and has a way of improving a person’s mood. A person who receives kindness is more likely to “pay it forward” – one good deed can create a domino effect (for example, my wife promptly baked warm chocolate chip cookies to deliver for those who provided us with baby wipes.) Kindness also has many physiological attributes. It produces a love hormone called oxytocin, which also increases our self-esteem and optimism when we’re feeling anxious.

In a study conducted by Christine Carter at UC Berkeley, Greater Good Science Center, about half of participants felt stronger and energized after helping others. Other participants reported positive effects such as feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased self-worth. Kindness also produced serotonin, which helps to heal wounds, helps to calm anxiety, and makes you feel happy. Kindness was found to decrease pain by producing endorphins—the brain’s natural painkiller. Studies have also found stress levels, anxiety, depression, and blood pressure to decrease.

So, there you have it! Even a small dose of kindness can boost your mental and physical health! What does it look like to express kindness not only to others but also to yourself? Does it look like leaving the pile of dishes for a warm bubble bath when you’re feeling tired, stressed or overwhelmed? Does it mean that you remind yourself that you matter, even though today didn’t go the way you hoped? Does it mean giving yourself an extra measure of grace during difficulty seasons?

Each day, we have this opportunity to benefit from the positive effects of act of kindness. Let’s do it together!

Guest columnist Kelly Londono
Guest columnist Kenny Londono, MS, LMFT is a Clinical Psychotherapist at the AdventHealth Wellness Center Celebration

Lifestyle Clinic.

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