You don’t feel great about yourself, so you assume you shouldn’t treat yourself great either.
Maybe you hate your body. Maybe you think you have way too many flaws. Maybe you’re mad at yourself because you have a knack for making mistakes when it really matters. Maybe you’re mad that you’ve already abandoned your New Year’s resolutions. Maybe you’re mad about a poor decision you made—last week or years ago. Maybe you think you’re broken and well beyond repair.
But being loving toward yourself doesn’t require being in love with yourself, said Stefani Reinold, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist, perinatal mental health expert, and eating disorders specialist with a singular mission to help women live their best life, free from self-limiting beliefs.
That is, you don’t have to be in love with “who you are, what you look like, or what you have,” Dr. Reinold said.
“So many individuals misunderstand self-care and self-love to mean that we either have to be lustfully in awe of every part of ourselves or that we have to be a bold, fierce, independent, assertive version of ourselves.”
You can just be you, feeling whatever you’re feeling—and taking good care of yourself.
According to Reinold, being loving toward ourselves means prioritizing our needs, honoring our desires, and respecting our boundaries. “It’s putting ourselves first so that we can better care for those around us and spread our love to others.”
This can look different from person to person. For instance, for one of Reinold’s clients, being loving looked like going to bed early every night so she could get enough sleep and wake up rejuvenated.
For a different client being loving looked like destroying her scale so her weight no longer shaped her self-worth. For another client it meant ending an abusive relationship.
For yet another client it meant taking her kids to daycare three times a week so she could return to work. And for another client it meant attending therapy and taking antidepressants to treat anxiety and depression.
“Many of these actions are not necessarily ‘sexy’ or even monumental steps,” but they are sincerely loving ones, said Reinold, also host of the weekly podcast “It’s Not About the Food,” and author of the book Let Your Heart Out, which features her signature therapy tool, the HEART Method®.
They are actions that sincerely support, serve, and nourish. They are actions that create fulfillment, health, and wellness in all areas of our lives.
So how can you be loving toward yourself if you don’t feel particularly loving? How can you treat yourself with kindness, patience, and gentleness when you’re angry about something you did? When you don’t like what you see in the mirror? When you don’t like certain things about yourself?
Where do you start?
According to Reinold, we start by grieving the loss of our fantasy selves. “The inability to overcome our own expectations of who we should be, what we should have, or what we should be doing, can be the biggest stumbling block toward being loving with yourself.” She suggested starting here:
- List everything you are expecting of yourself. “This can be as small as keeping a spotless home to as big as making a million dollars a year.”
- When you’re done, look at your list, and ask yourself this question: “Is there anyone you know who actually meets all of these expectations?” Your answer will likely be “‘No,’ because it does not exist.”
- Next start revising your expectations into realistic ones. Reinold shared this example: Many of us expect to be everything to everyone, and to do everything. Moms often expect themselves to breastfeed exclusively, stay home with their kids, have a massive online platform, generate passive income working from home, keep an immaculate home, be a social butterfly, and be the best wife ever. “A more realistic expectation would be to choose one thing from that list.” If you’re a new mom, this might mean caring for your baby, but letting other things go, like the dishes and a tidy home (or delegating to a spouse or family member or hiring help, if that’s available to you). “There’s a season for all things. To expect that we can do everything for everyone, neglecting our own self-care in the process, is unrealistic.”
- Lastly, ask yourself: “‘What is one thing I can do to prioritize my needs today?’ And do that one thing!”
You don’t have to love yourself or your body or all your traits to treat yourself well. You can simply start with a single step, one action that supports you.
And if you’re not sure what that is, ask yourself: What would I do if I loved myself? What would I do if I believed wholeheartedly that I deserved good things?
Go from there.