Select Page

I had an interesting conversation with my daughter the other day. She said,

“When someone is unkind to me, I don’t say anything because I don’t want to upset them.”

In terms of the messages within my parenting, I have placed a real emphasis upon kindness. So, as you can imagine, my heart sings when I hear about kindness being central to my daughter’s decision-making process.

Yet her comment troubled me.

What is kindness?

Let’s take a step back and think about kindness for a second. The Greek word for kindness is “chrestotes”, describing a sweet temper which puts others at ease and avoids causing pain.

However, being kind to others only works if that is the appropriate response.

When kindness is lacking

The tragic death of Caroline Flack in 2020 thrust kindness into the spotlight. Throughout her career, she was subjected to terrible trolling on social media. Then in the period leading up to her death, she was the subject of many negative headlines in the press.

When Caroline took her own life, it sent shock waves across the UK. It was utterly tragic to think she believed suicide to be her only option.

Her final words were immortalised “In a world where you can be anything, be kind”. In those days leading up to her death, I would imagine kindness was severely lacking in Caroline’s world.

Kindness and people pleasing

If you are a people pleaser, being kind and “agreeable” is important to you.

Agreeable is one of the “big five” personality traits and describes someone who is seen as altruistic, cooperative, modest, straightforward, empathic, and trustworthy.

If you are an agreeable person, you get along well with others because your traits lend themselves to harmonious relationships. The downside of being an agreeable person however is you put the interests of others before your own, and dealing with unpleasant behaviour can be an absolute minefield.

This is because the driver to “please others” is the way you have learnt to be ok in the world. Put simply, those of us with a strong “please others” driver like to keep everyone happy, often at our own expense. Naturally this leads to being popular but the dark side to people pleasing is feelings of anger and resentment towards others.

Don’t be too agreeable!

Coming back to my daughter. I explained that it’s ok to say if you think someone is being unkind. I described how sometimes when we don’t say how we feel, we swallow it down and we can feel angry about that.

I appreciate I am describing a conversation between myself and a 6 year old, but in my experience many adults need to hear this same message too.

I told my daughter it’s ok to say if you feel someone has been unkind because that’s what you think. There are of course several nuances such as the words you chose, the tone of your voice, your body language. Essentially however, we all have a right to say how we feel and if we are unhappy about something.

Jordan B. Peterson, a clinical psychologist, has much to say about the perils of being too agreeable. He points out that being overly agreeable leads to resentment because we feel we have been taken advantage of. He talks about noticing when we are feeling “hard done by” and follows by saying you have an obligation to yourself to confront what is going on.

Much easier said than done though I hear you say!

The role of boundaries

This is where I think boundaries come into play.

When we have clear boundaries which are mutually understood by you and others, this is a hidden act of kindness because it prevents you from getting hurt. However, before the boundary setting bit, you need to look inwardly, and work out how you want to be treated.

No one “makes” us feel anything. We feel an emotion based on our own internal experience. In circumstances where we believe we have been treated unfairly; we will have inevitably contributed to the situation. In most cases it is because we adjusted our boundaries to suit others.

Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping

I’m going to come back to Jordan B. Peterson and his book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos”. Rule number 2 states “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping”.

book cover and flowers

Essentially, he urges us all to believe we are worth helping.

Many of us struggle with the notion that we are worth anything. Self-worth is multi-faceted and there are many reasons why someone would struggle with this notion, mainly because of the terrible experiences we have suffered around negative messaging, abuse, and neglect.

Yet I would urge anyone to be open and curious to the idea that we all have value in this world, that we are important to others, and we are morally obligated to take care of ourselves. Jordan B. Peterson goes onto say “…don’t suffer silently when someone demands more from you than is offered in return. Then you are supporting tyranny.”

Kindness starts with you

I’m sure we are all familiar with the saying, “You can’t drink from an empty cup”. If you are not kind to yourself, how can you be kind to others? Well, I guess you can, for a while. But the more you give out without replenishing your own stock, the more you will feel resentful, hard done by, bitter, and overwhelmed.

Kindness is one of our greatest assets but remember kindness is a two-way street. Don’t put the needs of others before your own if it means you are not looking after yourself.

And this is exactly what I told my daughter.

heart with be kind to yourself written in it

If you are interested in finding out more about how professional counselling can help, you are very welcome to reach out to me via the “contact me” section on my website.