Over and over again, I see people struggling at work and in their relationships because they don’t feel worthy and lovable; they don’t love themselves. I’ve come to recognize that self-love isn’t selfish or strange or conceited. In my opinion, loving yourself is the cornerstone of good mental health. So, after writing 9 Simple Ways to Love Yourself, I decided it was worth giving you nine more ways to love yourself.
1. Honor your feelings. As a society, we are uncomfortable with feelings, especially the “unpleasant” ones. We prefer to numb out with alcohol, food, electronics, pornography, and busyness. We pretend we’re “fine” when we’re really very far from fine.
Feelings don’t just go away when you avoid them. They will show up at another time in another way. There really isn’t any way of avoiding them; you have to experience them. This is why honoring your feelings is a gift you give yourself. It’s a way of validating your experiences.
Feelings are also windows into what you really need. For example, your anger might be telling you that you’re overworked and tired. When you ignore your feelings, you can’t meet your own basic needs.
One of the exercises I commonly give to my therapy clients is to start regularly checking in with their feelings. Simply take a few minutes, be quiet, reflect, and pay attention to your feelings. When you’re not in the habit of doing this, it feels foreign, but the more you do it, the more natural it becomes. Eventually, it becomes automatic and you gain a deeper understanding of yourself.
2. Accept compliments from others. Many people have a bad habit of dismissing compliments because they feel uncomfortable with the focus on themselves and doubt whether the compliment is true. If you feel uncomfortable, try the compliment on and consider whether the person offering it is being true and honest. People generally give compliments because they care about and respect you.
The compliment-giver is offering you kindness and positive energy that you deserve to benefit from. When you dismiss compliments, you’re also denying the compliment-giver the pleasure of giving you this gift.
3. Cut yourself some slack. Loving yourself means offering yourself grace when you mess up. It means not expecting perfection. It means resting when you need to rather than pushing through the fatigue. Notice when you’re judging yourself with hindsight and forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know.
4. Care for your body. Taking care of your body is one of the most basic ways to love yourself. Everything really is much harder when your health is suffering. I find that often people (including me) take their bodies for granted. You’re probably keenly aware of your physical ailments or limitations. Instead of focusing on them, try being grateful for what your body can do. You can either hate your body for having jiggly thighs or you can choose to appreciate your legs for supporting you and carrying you all day long. Caring for your body includes the obvious things such as eating nutritiously, getting enough sleep and exercising, but it can also means soaking in a bathtub or asking your partner for a foot massage.
5. Allow yourself to dream. When you love yourself, you have hope for the future. You have dreams and goals and ideas; you allow yourself to imagine yourself doing great things and going great places. Try a new hobby or do something off your bucket list to show yourself that you matter.
6. Express your opinions. Your opinions and thoughts are just as important and valid as everyone else’s. You don’t have to defer to others as if they know more or are more important than you. Thoughtfully expressing your opinions is a reflection of self-respect. If this is hard for you, start small and with safer people until you build up your confidence.
7. Build relationships. Healthy relationships are good for everyone. Research shows that people with strong social support networks are healthier, happier, and live longer. If you’re an introvert, highly sensitive person, or have anxiety or another mental health problem, it can be hard to build connections with others. You don’t necessarily need a huge circle of friends, but you do need a handful of people that you enjoy and can count on. Not having a lot of friends is nothing to be embarrassed about. With deliberate effort, most people can build positive relationships. Look for opportunities in the places you visit regularly whether that’s church or a coffee shop or school or even online.
8. Invest in self-improvement. I see the desire to improve yourself as an indication that you value yourself. We all have things we’d like to improve, but not everyone will invest the time and money to actually do the work. Self-improvement comes in many forms – going to therapy, reading a self-help book, listening to podcasts, reading this blog, attending a support group. When you love yourself, you’ll want to improve not because you’re “broken” or want to please someone else, but because you care about yourself. I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from psychologist Carl Rogers: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” The desire for self-improvement doesn’t come from self-loathing, it comes from self-acceptance.
9. Don’t accept all negative criticism as Gospel. Do yourself a favor and look at criticism with a curious mind. Explore the validity of the criticism logically, rather than immediately jumping to defensiveness or self-criticism. Loving yourself means that you can accept and take responsibility for your mistakes or faults, but you don’t take responsibility for everything that goes wrong; you thoughtfully consider whether the criticism is true.
I hope you will add these nine ways to practice self-compassion to your arsenal of self-love. Which one will you try to use today?
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©2016 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
photo by: Droid Gingerbread