I’ve recently begun keeping what I term a “Kindness Journal”. This isn’t a list of kind or thoughtful things I do for others (although, as a caretaker personality, that list would certainly fill a page or two). No, this is a journal about kind things I do for myself.
Finding fault with myself has been almost an hourly pastime since I was an adolescent. Sometimes this is a helpful trait, sparking new levels of maturity. You weren’t as supportive as you could have been, the Critic in My Mind tells me. You should not have said that. You should have done this; not have done that. Was that really necessary? Did you actually listen to your own tone of voice? You were thoughtless and you need to apologize.
When I’m in a rational frame of mind, these self-criticisms are benign and constructive. Questioning my motives and behavior drives me to at least try to improve myself.
The Constructive Critic also reminds me that we most dislike in others the same behaviors that we despise in ourselves. Although I would challenge that concept on the basis of its being a generality, I accept that it’s often true. The Constructive Critic has become adept at confronting me when I am irritated or furious over something that another person has said or done. Am I actually upset, I ask myself, only because I make similar remarks? Behave in the same manner? Isn’t that really why I’m angry? Again, when it comes to moments like these, the Constructive Critic is a genuinely helpful personality quirk. Uncomfortable, but helpful.
But for me (and I suppose for a lot of people), the Constructive Critic all too often descends into a cruel and vicious faultfinder; a tyrant who sits in judgment from a high throne of hypercritical conviction. Speaking in the voices of actual detractors and censors from my past, the narrator which I term the Nazi Critic descends into bullying and cruelty. You were always plain; now you’re just plain ugly, the Nazi Critic declaims. Stupid bitch; why did you do that? No wonder no one ever loved you—I mean, who could?!
It’s hard to turn off the Nazi Critic in its evil mode of psychological warfare. My emotions spiral downward with each fresh self-administered slap on the ego. I think of this as the emotional equivalent of a medieval penitent scourging herself across the shoulders with a cat o’ nine tails. Just as the clawed whip tore into flesh, so the Nazi Critic’s malicious words rip apart my self-worth and confidence, strewing them like the dead across the battlefield of my own soul. The results of this clash soon become physically visible upon my face, in my bearing.
And so to combat the occasional incursions of the Nazi Critic, I’ve begun my Kindness Journal. Each evening I list a few things (sometimes very few) that I’ve done to simply be nice to myself. Often it’s something physical: a good, long walk, or a relaxing bath with lavender salts instead of a hurried shower. Occasionally it’s doing something that I find truly difficult, but rewarding, such as saying “No” to a request that I really don’t want to fulfill, all the while reminding myself that it’s better to refuse a request than to agree and nourish resentment. Sometimes kindness to myself means that I must state plainly but calmly that I disagree with another’s viewpoint—something which I find difficult and scary. Rarely, it’s standing up for myself, as in those instances when I have to remind someone that they owe me money and I expect repayment. Those and many other things are now entries in my Kindness Journal.
I realize now that I have spent years of my life when I was at my lowest ebb, hoping and wishing that someone, anyone, would be kind to me, all the while believing the brutal words of the Nazi Critic—my own mind, twisted and tormented, telling me in the voices of cruel people from my past that I am worthless and ugly and useless and uneducated, undeserving of anyone’s attention or affection or courtesy or kindness.
So it is time, at last, to be kind to myself, gentle with myself, courteous toward myself.
It isn’t always easy. But perhaps by writing a few words every day in my Kindness Journal, I can lay the Nazi Critic to rest at last.