We are often told that we must “learn to love ourselves.” It’s good advice, but how exactly do we do that?
First let’s define self-love. Self-love means that we care about our own well-being, and our own happiness. It means that we unconditionally accept ourselves, with all our past mistakes and all our flaws, as well as all of our amazingness.
This sounds so easy! But as humans we seem to have a default setting that means we think negative thoughts about ourselves, ALL THE TIME. We think stuff like “I look fat”, or “I hate the wrinkles under my eyes”, or “I am stupid” etc etc. We think, (and say), things about ourselves that we would never, ever say to a friend. But somehow, we believe this negative self-talk is OK.
The first step towards self-love is to start working on talking to ourselves (and about ourselves), in a positive way. If we catch ourselves saying mean things, we need to gently correct it. We need to make a conscious decision that it is no longer acceptable to criticize or down-talk ourselves, in any way. Instead we must work on talking to ourselves, with kindness, patience and forgiveness. Just like we would talk to someone else, that we loved and cared for.
We also need to start accepting our past. There is nothing about the past that we can change. Maybe we did make some bad decisions, or do some things that are a bit cringe-worthy, in hindsight. But we need to accept that we lived our life, doing the best that we could, with the information we had, at that time. And if we are reflecting on the past and wishing we had done it better, then it is an opportunity to learn something. This is so much more empowering than beating ourselves up, for past decisions or actions, that we cannot change.
Our past is our story. It is what has led us to be the person we are today. To love ourselves, we need to learn to embrace that story.
One of the things we often do if we are lacking in self-love is to put other people’s happiness and needs before our own. There are times when we DO have to consider others and put their needs first. For example, if we are a parent, and our baby is crying at night, we happily give up our, much needed, sleep to look after them.
It becomes unhealthy when we find we are USUALLY putting other adult’s happiness and needs before our own. To check this in our own lives, we can write a list of the things that make us happy and that we enjoy doing. If we are not doing them, then ask ourselves why. And whatever our reason is for not doing the things on our list, change it. Start giving ourselves the gift of happiness and joy.
If we are happy and do the things that bring us joy, we teach our children how to be happy, we will have better relationships, and we will have more satisfaction in most areas of our life. There really is no downside to making our own happiness important.
And just to be clear, what self-love is not, is being a narcissist with a huge ego. And it is not about having the best dress or the newest phone, so that we can show off to our friends. It is only about caring for, accepting and nurturing ourselves.
Written by Lynda Timperley BTCH, Dip Psych, Cert Life Coaching