Kindness as a Discipline

Sue Bergeson Health Guide
  • One of my friends and mentors, Peter C. Ashenden, once taught me a lesson about kindness that I hold onto and work on weekly. Peter is the CEO of Mental Health Empowerment Project out of New York and, before he joined the DBSA Board of Directors, he wrote an article called “Loving Kindness: Dealing With Negative Self-Talk and Negative Talk.”

    From Peter, I learned that kindness was an essential part of my recovery journey. Many of us add recovery tools to our lives like going to bed and getting up at the same time everyday, adding gentle walking or even vigorous exercise to our lives, journaling, staying on a regular medication routine, learning our triggers, and preparing strategies to deal with them. But I had not thought about kindness as a wellness tool until I ran into Peter.
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    In his article, Peter states, “Often, I would find myself saying things that were not wrapped in kindness but similar to the old behaviors that I was very comfortable and familiar with. I had a hard time trying to change. However, I did not give up and allowed myself to make mistakes. What I saw happen was that I soon began to easily recognize when I was slipping into my old behaviors, and made a more concerted effort to change. Another result was that when I was successful in wrapping each word in kindness, my interactions with others were not as argumentative or defensive. By projecting kindness and consideration, I got the same in return from others.”

    It takes work to wrap our words and actions in kindness. I fail as much as I succeed. But oddly enough, when I go with kindness instead of anger, I have never regretted my actions. When I let anger and negativity out, there are many times that I have come to regret those choices.

    As an advocate, I have to say hard things some times. I have to face down stigma, deal with providers who label and demean, cope with payer systems that do more harm than good. So there are many, many times that I must be strong. But personally I need to find the balance between strength, anger, and kindness. It’s not an easy journey. I remember, too, a talk therapist who worked very hard to get me to recognize that the guy who ended our long-term relationship had treated me badly. I was so wrapped up in understanding him and his pain that I could not allow myself to look at my own pain. That’s not healthy.  So, kindness cannot be a way to escape the pain we all feel at times.  

    One of DBSA’s major surveys shows that the symptom that most of us find most difficult or destructive in our lives is irritability. I remember the researchers being surprised by this finding—surely suicidal thoughts, mania, or sadness would rank higher on the list than irritability.  But those of us who live with these illnesses know that it’s irritability that causes us to ruin personal and work relationships, that loses jobs, that ends friendships and marriages. Kindness can be a discipline to overcome this irritability that can ruin our lives.

    One of DBSA’s most popular publications “Kindness as a Way To Wellness” suggests that we each take an inventory every night to determine how we did and if there are ways we can work on our wellness by being kinder tomorrow. It’s a hard journey but one I work on every day as a part of my recovery.

  • How have you implemented kindness in your life? Do you have ideas and suggestions to share with us all? 
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Published On: April 20, 2007