One of my clients is currently going through a particularly gruelling time at work. She remarked that she has been really touched by the support she has received from friends and colleagues. She is the target of particularly nasty ongoing workplace bullying, and is aware of feeling isolated and off balance. However, professional colleagues have gone out of their way to tell her how much she is valued. I suggested she keep a Kindness Journal – a place where she can record every act of kindness and support that she is receiving. It will help her build a sense of the parts of her world that are still working normally.
Emotional pain distorts reality
When you are in the middle of painful experiences deep-seated emotions are stirred, and it is often difficult to see what is really going on. Your relationship to your own power and that of others can become distorted. You may draw your energy inwards, or be panicked into pushing against the situation. When I was bullied at work, I can remember being suspicious of everyone and trusting nobody. I often felt sick. You may have feelings of guilt and worthlessness, or a fear that you may not recover and that you may not be employable again.
Another client had made a major mistake at work fifteen years earlier. He was still allowing this to limit his career choices, believing he could not trust himself. It was only when I asked him what he had achieved in the interim, what he had learned, and whether such a mistake had ever happened again that he realised that his pessimism was out of proportion. He had more options than he had allowed himself to consider.
Kindness is good for you
The Kindness Journal is one way of balancing the negative effects of your bad experience and letting in the sustaining and healing energy of the kindness of others. And the good news is that there is growing scientific evidence of the beneficial effects of kindness itself.
I’ve written elsewhere about the kindness of our neighbours (now friends) when we first moved to our current home. It was novel for us, and we still bask in it four years later.
I recently caught up with the work of Dr David Hamilton, a former pharmaceutical research chemist who worked on drugs for treating heart disease. He became very interested in the placebo effect, wondering why it is that when half of patients in a drug trial are given ‘sugar pills’, a substantial proportion of them show improvement in their condition, not just those given the actual drug. He had been struck as a child by the effect his kind and outgoing Mum had on everyone she helped.
Leaving the lab behind, Hamilton went on to study the power of the mind in healing, and has written a series of highly-acclaimed and very accessible books on the science of the mind-body connection. He describes how kindness triggers the release of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin both in the giver and receiver of kindness. Among other things, oxytocin is believed to protect against heart disease and to counter harmful stress hormones.
So noticing kindness in the midst of distress can genuinely help. Watch David Hamilton talking about why kindness is good for you.