a woman is surrounded by radiating hearts while she stares at a scar on her hand

How To Be Kind To Yourself

Ever look at yourself in the mirror and think your face doesn’t look so great? Or look down at areas of your skin with discolorations or scars or other irregularities and think, “Yuck”? How about when your skin is red and raw after Efudex treatment? Double the fun.

Saying mean things to ourselves

If you said yes, it could help to know that there are ways of changing the hurtful things we say to ourselves. To back up, first of all, before I had skin cancer, when I complained about a pimple or other blemish on my face, my mother would say, “Don’t look at yourself so closely!”

It was true, my face was practically pressed upon the mirror, so I tried to back off. I don’t know about you, but I still sometimes get right in my own face. I remind myself that it’s not productive, and then I step back.

Getting critical of my skin

I’m especially unhappy with the mottled appearance of the skin on my hands. They seem to have been the recipient of the most sun damage, possibly because when I applied sunscreen to other parts of my body, I sometimes neglected my hands.

It’s hard to avoid looking at your hands. Sometimes I hold my blemished hand up against my daughter’s smooth one and think wistfully about days gone past when my hands were like that too. My left hand has more little spots on it, but my right hand has a pink scar where a dermatologist gave a precancerous spot a super hard freeze. (It was too hard, in my opinion.)

Focusing on self-care

So, what to do?

You could try “lovingkindness meditation.” It won’t help your skin, but it can calm your mind. “This meditation uses words, images, and feelings to evoke a lovingkindness and friendliness toward oneself and others,” writes Jack Kornfield, the founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Northern California.1

Meditation is an option for feeling better

Easy peasy! You just sit quietly for about 15 minutes and think nice thoughts about yourself! Well, actually, it’s a little more complicated than that. You can start with traditional phrases and then adapt them so they are more personal to you.

How to start

Breathe gently, and recite inwardly the following traditional phrases directed toward our own well-being. You begin with yourself because without loving yourself it is almost impossible to love others.

May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May I be well in body and mind.
May I be at ease and happy.”1

Other options

If you’re antsy like I often am, you can try a walking meditation; he provides guidance on his website. If lovingkindness is too much of a mouthful, you could start with, “May I be free from danger,” or “May I be safe.” It can take some time, as Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, knew from personal experience.

Changing focus

“It's only after we've practiced many times that we'll begin to notice a habit developing—namely, letting ourselves off the hook once in awhile,” she writes.2 Check out her 45-minute guided lovingkindness meditation on the website Mindful. After you’re done extending these wishes to yourself, you go through again, focusing on someone you love, and after that, thinking of someone with whom you have a difficult relationship.

Science backs it up

A trial of lovingkindness meditation for self-critical people found that it works. The report in the journal Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy concluded, “The current study shows that loving-kindness meditation, designed to foster self-compassion, is efficacious in helping self-critical individuals become less self-critical and more self-compassionate. The study also suggests that practicing loving-kindness may reduce depressive symptoms and increase positive emotions.”3

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