Kindness means being helpful towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helpers themselves, but for that of the person who receives it. It increases social interaction and can also help us feel better about our circumstances. Recipients of kindness tend to feel better about themselves too. Kindness can also encourage people experiencing anxiety, depression, and other concerns to reach out for help.
But do we really have to be kind?
Obviously, there is no rule, but it might be that kindness gets us ahead in better, longer lasting ways. In fact, many psychological studies concur that kindness makes us feel happy. It increases our wellbeing, whether we are kind to strangers, or even just to ourselves. We can experience greater life satisfaction if we perform acts of kindness. It might safeguard us from stress causing physical health issues. We now know that mental health and physical health are connected. And if we are kind, it might mean our stress is less likely to connect to illness. Moreover, its positive effects are long-lasting and even after years we can experience less stress-triggered health problems.
Recognising real kindness
When kindness it’s not for the right reasons, it can achieve the opposite effects of wellbeing. For example, when people are being helpful simply to promote their own interest or not to do a favour, but merely to return one, the action is a mere return and is therefore not an act of kindness. This is what we would call ‘giving to get’ manipulation and wanting to be valued in return for our kindness codependency. When we are co-dependent, we gain our sense of self from being needed, instead of from within. We think we are being kind, but we are actually caretaking or pleasing others in order to win approval and love. Which is really controlling and manipulating them.
But I am not naturally a kind person
Evolutionary psychologists and biologists would argue that we have evolved to be kind to those around us as we recognise it helps us and our offspring survive. And psychologists studying babies now suggest that babies are prone to acts of kindness. In fact, young children have a biological predisposition to help others achieve their goals, to share resources with others and to inform others of things helpfully. So, you were not born to be unkind.
So why do some of us struggle to be kind?
If you are comparing yourself to those around you who seem to find kindness so easy, don’t be too harsh on yourself. They might have had easier upbringings, with less adverse childhood experiences, like neglect, a broken home or trauma. Abuse in particular, of any kind, teaches a child they are without value, and don’t deserve things like kindness. This can lead to projecting anger onto others and refusing to show empathy or charity.
Can counselling help me be kind?
Yes. Counselling focuses on helping you be easier on yourself and others. Particularly, the person-centred approach, which teaches you to recognise your own inner resources and offer you unconditional positive regard, that you then can extend to others. But note that counselling is not about being a ‘nice’ person, it’s about being an authentic person who knows their boundaries. Sometimes that means being kind. Other times, that means telling someone a very firm no, so we can give drops of kindness to ourselves.
Article adapted from <https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/kindness-and-mental-health.htm