You know those soft-focus, glittery, semi-inspirational quotes that Facebook mams are always obsessed with sharing? “Everything happens for a reason” in cursive writing, inexplicably next to a smiling Minion cartoon. I hate these images most of the time, in case you couldn’t tell, but as 2019 hit, one of these quotes actually spoke to me (I know, I was surprised too).
“All these years of hating yourself hasn’t worked — why don’t you try loving yourself and see how it goes?” was the general gist. I normally breeze past online discussions of self-hatred and self-love in favour of floating along with a general sense of self-indifference instead, but this quote stopped me in my tracks. I stopped to think how often in a day I berate myself for something — saying something awkward, making a mistake, being difficult? The answer was far too many. And how many times did I pat myself on the back for something, or admire myself in the mirror, or accept a compliment without blathering an excuse? Far too little.
New Year’s Resolutions are built on the idea of self-hatred. Sure, if you loved yourself, there’d be no reason for resolutions, would there? On the one hand, a healthy sense of self-improvement is a good thing, because to get complacent often results in narcissism, which nobody likes. But this ‘new year, new me’ thing is different. It’s insidious, worming its way into your brain to tell you that, unless you’re dieting, exercising, saving money and bossing it at work all at the same time in the first week of January, you’re failing at life. But of course, you can bypass that failure by spending your dwindling December wage on plenty of equipment, gym classes and clothes to get you through.
Most people will tell you that self-love is the antidote the relentless consumerism of the January blues. And in a sense, they’re right. To love yourself is to believe in your own worth and power, and not depend on external sources to validate you. Which is great and all, but here’s the thing — loving yourself is really hard. If you’ve spent years, even decades, putting yourself down and then get up one day and try to tell yourself how wonderful you are, it doesn’t really work. You feel like an eejit, and embarrassed for trying and you’re straight back to the old comfort blanket of hate.
And so, I believe I’ve discovered the real answer to these New Year woes — self-kindness. A stepping stone to self-love, if you will, self-kindness means that, when you inevitably fuck up this year, you don’t dig yourself into a hole of internal anguish. You simply say: “do you know what? That wasn’t great, but it’s not the end of the world, and I’ll learn from it and move on, because I’m still a decent human”.
Think of it as a conversation with a friend after they’ve made a mistake. If your relationship with your friends is anything like mine, you’re not going to sit there gushing over how beautiful and wonderful they are and how much you adore them (unless you’ve had a few drinks). What you do is dispel their anxieties, make them laugh and then distract them with ice-cream and trashy television, so you can forget about the whole thing and move on. Not falling over yourself with sappy, insincere ‘love’. Kindness.
To me, self-kindness is a much more realistic and accessible way to tackle self-deprecation rather than jumping on the self-love bandwagon. Apart from the fact that self-love is hard work, the idea of being absolutely enamoured with yourself admittedly jars with me. I will gladly admit that I subscribe too much to the old Irish trope of relentless begrudgery and hatred of notions. As a result, encountering someone who absolutely loves themselves gives me a feeling of about 30% admiration and 70% annoyance. I’m delighted that some people have reached such a place of happiness within themselves, but for me, the simple idea of my mind being nice to me when I’ve messed up, instead of spiralling into anxiety, is much more appealing.
Maybe one day, before the year is out, I’ll have reached the nirvana of self-love. But until then, I’m happy enough to bring a bit of kindness into my internal monologue’s vocabulary, and see where that takes me.