The other day, I was driving a car when, suddenly, another woman driver forced "the right of way." She should have stopped in the middle of the intersection and waited in front of the crosswalk for a pedestrian, yet she was in a position where she was forcing the crossing. I was shocked. WTF. Then, passing by, a woman turned to me, gave me a friendly smile, and waved super kindly.
I didn't wave back. I was sitting in the car and couldn't help but notice that I hadn't waved back. Years ago, perhaps until recently, I would have 100% spontaneously waved back and responded with a smile.
This time, I watched. Observed. Starred. WTF. Nothing in me wanted to respond to her, and there was no space for any kindness to be present. I just attended the scene, and I was thinking about rules in general and then boundaries and how it gets interesting when people cross them, the rules and boundaries.
Kindness, The Ambiguous Thing
Kindness can be an ambiguous concept that we use to mask our deeper inner reality in a socially acceptable way. Kindness is about all the beautiful things: generosity, kindness of heart, deep compassion, and solidarity.
the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate
"he thanked them for their kindness and support."
I remember vividly how a close relative from my family of origin once commented on my behavior. They said that I'm kinder to strangers than to the family. They were hurt, I felt insulted and the comment stayed with me. Years after, I still remember that remark, and I still don't know why I remember it; I guess I have work to do on my unkindness.
Our society is saturated in praise of kindness and the moral implications such as "love thy neighbor." Tenderness and consideration for others, of which kindness speaks, seem to be the most human need; they are socially expected and valued. I think kindness somehow identifies people as good people, as deserving, and as lovely. If we're kind, we supposedly qualify for love and appreciation; if we aren't kind, we can quickly lose the chance to be appreciated at least or... punished. Since kids are small, we teach them kindness in their behavior and encourage them to be kind. Kindness is a need, an attitude, a catalyst, and a tool.
We even have a loving-kindness spiritual tradition. It gives us a unique, beautiful prayer - the famous metta prayer. Metta prayer is a type of meditation practice. You silently recite phrases designed to open the heart energy center. That center sustains warm human connections and cultivates a kind attitude toward oneself, others, and the world. The more we tune into our hearts, the deeper we dive into our wellspring of warm human love, and the more we open to love and paradoxically let it in.
But is that always the case?
A Mask Of Kindness
An attitude of kindness can be genuine; I think it is beautiful when it is. Kindness can soften the edges of communication and warms the heart; it brings hope into humanness. But it can also be entirely insincere. If it's not genuine, there's a mask of kindness present, and as with any mask, it has nothing to do with real presence.
The mask is an elaborate energetic strategy that serves as a protective layer for parts of us that we're unaware of, our shadow self.
The mask of kindness is a shadowy substance. It's an energetic code that runs on a collective level, and like any mask and shadow, it blocks the expression of vital life energy. It has nothing to do with genuine compassion, true love, and deep humanity. It is a spiritually and ethically endorsed policy that doesn't help or heal. Still, it keeps people stuck in their fakeness - alienated from their true feelings - a general challenge of modern spirituality.
The difference between genuine kindness on the one hand and the mask of kindness on the other is easy to recognize. It always lies in the presence and absence of an aggressive-assertive stance.
Someone who wears a mask of kindness keeps their aggressive impulses tightly under control, and their cheerfulness and kindness can be convincing, but sooner or later, it leaves a bad taste in our mouths. Behind the sweet, saint-like glow camouflages a very different realm; a fertile soil of shadowland full of fear, shame, guilt, and obligation.
Navigating Boundaries: Embracing Aggressive Impulses
When kindness is the dominant strategy in our relationships, we cannot afford to say no unless we're strongly provoked. Then, we cannot control ourselves from bursting into anger. But as a rule of thumb, we can neither imagine nor risk drawing a clear line where our responsibility ends and the other person's responsibility begins. A boundary can be a vague concept for us.
Aggressive impulses are the natural, valuable, and healthy expressions of a life force that helps us develop our individuality and autonomy and express our uniqueness. The nature of these impulses enables and reinforces separation and detachment from the Other to gain an inner and outer (s)pace and develop our independent identity.
Aggressive impulses are not aggression. They are impulses per se - as an entirely bodily-sensation-feeling-emotional phenomenon, they are also a psychological and spiritual must. They're an energetic and psychological means of separation, movement, exploration, autonomy, detachment, self-identity, and individuality.
Without aggressive impulses, there is no independence, no free thought, no ownership of one's own mind, body, and Soul.
It's essential to be aware of our anger to set boundaries. We can set limits out of love or anger, but we can't choose how our body reacts in a particular situation, so we must know to deal with both possibilities!
Anger: Overcoming Guilt and Fear
Many people are not only afraid of anger but feel guilty about feeling it. They think that if they start feeling anger, they won't be able to handle it, and it'll become overwhelming and dangerous for others. Many people are convinced it is a sin to feel anger, to be angry about someone's behavior, and they are worried. Eventually, something terrible will happen to them as a punishment for handling it.
This belief system usually has a religious and new-age background, which can be highly toxic to one's mental health. It pushes people into constant inner purging, into the forced "process of forgiveness," even in new-age circles, which are dangerous practices, especially for people suffering from trauma.
Navigating Anger: From Awareness to Intentional Expression
But dealing with anger isn't about "showing" others how angry we're. It's about becoming aware of how angry we're and then deciding how to express our anger, in what way, when, and to whom? There's a neurobiological conditioned step between becoming aware of our anger and acting it out. We often say people have "anger issues." When they do, they typically miss out on the building of anger. Due to the dynamic of their brain activity involved in anger build-up (amygdala-hypothalamus axis), the conscious mind (prefrontal cortex) doesn't catch up with the energy building up in the body, signaling the onset of anger.
The unreflective reactivity - anger outbursts - is related to the lack of mental time-space distance between the emergence of the impulses in the body and the conscious awareness that ultimately allows us to channel the response intentionally.
It's possible not to perceive the impulses our body sends us, signaling the buildup of an emotional response. If we can't read our body's signals, we can't perceive the whole spectrum of emotions and feelings, not just anger. So when we learn to deal with our anger, we also learn to connect with the entire range of other feelings and emotions. This always includes learning to be consciously associated with our bodies. This is a vital part of any psychotherapeutic work for many - or at least it should be.
When we fail to build up the energy of emotion in our body-mind, we often lapse into either suppression or open, uncensored expression. This is then called aggression with explosive behavior (anger, hitting, yelling, cursing, self-harm, immediate sexual drive, etc.), which is the opposite of self-centered aggression with implosive behavior (dissociation, withdrawal, numbness, overeating, etc.).
Explosive behavior is what we mean when we say "aggression." Aggression is an action that's hostile, destructive, and harmful to oneself or and others. Because of painful past experiences and overall violence issues humanity, many of us cannot clearly distinguish between anger and aggression. Either we've "anger issues" as described above, or we suppress anger because we've had painful experiences with aggression. Our internal schemas don't allow us to experience anger, express anger consciously, and use it assertively.
The mask of loving-kindness is a level that helps us keep up with our persona, and at the same time, we control the anger that's suppressed in our shadow. When we use the mask of kindness, we're afraid of anger and others. We act out of the subliminal, unconscious belief that anger is a toxic agent of destruction, which means that (a) we've probably suffered painfully at the hands of someone else's anger, (b) we mix what emotions are and what our actions are. We are often unaware that the perception of anger as harmful echoes our past experiences, often childhood.
The Suppression of Women's Anger
Women tend to confuse the perception of anger with aggression and experience anger as toxic, unwanted, harmful, and hysterical. Even more interesting is that patriarchal society, in its attempt to absolve itself of responsibility for systemic aggression, often views a woman's anger as aggression - toxic, unwanted, harmful, or "merely" hysterical.
The way women deal with their anger is, in fact, the way society has treated women's anger for centuries.
What happens when a woman is afraid of her aggressive impulses, i.e., her anger? There's a mechanism in the psyche that controls impulses that might contradict social norms. When anger builds up in situations where anger is often a reaction - situations of loss and fear - guilt builds up, preventing them from feeling or expressing anger. So in a stereotypical scenario, the woman remains calm, often obedient, and compliant. Being obedient and compliant doesn't mean she's quiet or doesn't rebel. It only means that she's inauthentic and adjusts the expression of her truth to the real or imagined expectations of others.
In patriarchy, people are punished and excluded if they disobey authority. In a patriarchal frame of reference, one must submit in order to be accepted. And to avoid disobedience and rebellion, one must ignore or numb emotions, especially anger. Anger is always dangerous and sanctioned from the perspective of patriarchy because it's a guardian of free thought, independence, and sovereignty.
Women are relational beings from the word go. In her book The Reproduction of Mothering, Nancy Chodorow has developed an understanding of female psychological development. She shows that a girl's psychosexual development relates to her innate sexual equality with her mother. Their position as her mother determines her degree of autonomy in every relationship.
This observation is enormous. It has significant implications for the understanding of the psychological development of women. According to Chodorow and Stone Center feminists, for that reason, women have a more vulnerable sense of autonomy in relationships. This affects women's lives and makes life for women emotionally challenging differently than for men.
Exhausted? Check Your Mask of Kindness
Women's self-perception and self-esteem seem to be much more influenced by the complex matrix of our relationships than men's. If we associate this feminine disposition with the forceful demands of loving-kindness, if-you-can-be-anything-be-kind parols? A socially and spiritually favorable attitude everyone seems to encourage suddenly becomes problematic and questionable. We see that we can get a lot of repressed emotions, a lot of repressed inner truth, and many statements, opinions, and facts that women don't dare to think and share!
When we talk about masks - like the one of kindness, we're always talking about layers of the Psyche that require a lot of energy input to maintain.
Wearing masks always exhaust us.
False kindness is easy to recognize. Women can recognize it themselves. If not before, then in the shadowy anonymity of the night, sitting alone, with no witnesses and therefore absolutely no mask to maintain for anyone. At such a time, fear seeps through. A cascade of doubts, worries, and worst-case scenarios assail the woman's mind and body, a sense of being lost spreads. And then, the next day, when this experience goes unnoticed, the woman puts on makeup and continues to be kind and loving to everyone. This is exhausting; it robs the creative fire, but it's such a strong, collective, spiritually recognized, and correct attitude!
So, "if you can be anything," is it best to be kind?
You won't go to heaven because you're kind, friendly, and loving. Still, you can and will get into trouble if you deal with difficult people and manage complex relationships through your obsessive drive to be loving and kind.
If you can be anything in this world, be genuine. Be respectful to yourself and others, but be real. Genuinely doesn't mean kind, as loving isn't spiritual Olympic gold. You won't go to heaven for being kind, pleasant, and loving at any cost. Still, you can and will get into a lot of trouble if you deal with difficult people and conduct complicated relationships through the lens of your obsessive desire to be loving and kind. When you obsess about caring and kindness, you often only play nice.
If we don't start our behavior from our inner authority, and we overlook what our body is telling us and leading us, and we want to seem loving and kind, we only play the nice, the pleasing, and the pleasant.
Being nice is often a terrible strategy that leaves too many of us energetically enslaved and playing a false game in toxic relationships and abusive working conditions.
Please stop, in any shape or form, acting as kind when you don't feel it deep down in your body and soul. On top of that: people should earn your kindness, and they must do so by behaving correctly, respectfully, and transparently. No one deserves your love just because you can give love or because they exist - unless it's your minor child who depends entirely on you!
Respect yourself, respect your anger, respect your boundaries, and learn how to listen to what your body is saying. Then express yourself according to your deepest values and beliefs, and no matter what, always stay true to yourself.
If kindness emerges, fine. But it should always be optional, never an obligation.
And? Next time you're hurt, try to avoid masking your pain. Come as you're. You'll feel less lonely and much more substantial. Allow yourself to be openly connected to the immense energy system of pain we collectively share. Sit with it. Don't mask it. Don't force yourself to overdrive it with anything, even a lovely Metta Prayer. Don't try to get rid of your feelings for any cost! Stay with what comes to the surface, feel it, think about it, heal it, and then move on... It's more than possible, and you can do it.
Kindness can be used to hide our deeper inner reality in a socially acceptable way. Pay attention closely, significantly, when you grew up with violence and abuse, and get careful around expressing kindness. Pay attention to your smiles and check if you are smiling because deep inside, your inner parts are frightened, frozen by fear - and you cover those internal parts with a smile. And if that's true, stop smiling, get real, and take care of yourself.
This is what I did, anyway. Because... I used to be like many of us. I was quiet, cautious, inhibited, and believed curiosity kills the cat. I never dared to raise my voice or speak loudly, let alone proudly. I always cared about feelings, moods, ambitions, dreams, and desires. Of others! Even about their bank accounts... In that process, I felt safe, very safe. I worked hard to fit in. My mind worked hard to make sure I fit in. It worked so hard that I had no room for creativity or joyful productivity - but I was acceptable. And likable. No one said to me, Tina, watch your language. Or, your work sucks. No eye-rolls. I never heard you value yourself too highly. Nobody talked about me behind my back. I was safe. Very, very safe... Then, the grace of Force entered my life... and I stopped that bullshit.
Kindness is idolized in this society, as many other things are - the less awareness, the more idealization. People often don't distinguish between anger and aggression. Historically, women have long had trouble recognizing and expressing their anger. Many feel guilty for feeling it. We're culturally conditioned to mask our anger with niceness, which then shows up as a silent obsession with love and kindness. Am I kind enough? Kindness is then a concept we use to mask our deeper inner reality in a socially acceptable way. To be liberated and accessible, we must stop hiding our pain and refuse to "wear" any masks, including masks of kindness.
Tina Božič Psychotherapist View my bio