Learning to love yourself is a sentiment most of us hear throughout our lives. For some reason it becomes unnatural for us to love who we are. Why?
Various moments in our lives shape who we are. Such as feeling betrayed by a parent who wasn’t there for you, having friends who behaved cruelly, or mean siblings. From these experiences, we create narratives about our own self worth by how we fit into the world. Oh and I haven’t even mentioned media yet. With advertisements subtly (and sometimes blatantly) telling us we’re not good enough.
As wonderfully stated by Gay Hendricks, Ph.D., “We have looked outside ourselves for someone else to set a goal, for someone else to approve of us.” We lose our inner sense of what we want and what will satisfy us.
Why We Don’t Love Ourselves
In the book Learning to Love Yourself, Gay Hendricks, Ph.D. mentions a couple ways we come to feel unlovable:
- We reach a “conclusion about ourselves [that] something is wrong with me”. We feel unlovable by taking events which befall us personally rather than realize it would’ve been the same no matter who was there.Hendricks saw his single mom always looking harried and overwhelmed so he came to believe he was the problem. Children, with good reason, “are unable to separate out what’s happening to them from what would be happening if someone else were there instead.”
- As kids, we pick up any negative feelings our parents have in their love often thinking we’re the cause of them.
- Others talk you out of your own experience. “One of the biggest problems a child has is that almost everyone you meet will try to talk you out of your own experience.” They can say things like “Don’t be scared”, “Don’t cry”, or “Calm down”. Their intentions are good but lead us away from our own experience. Plus, this implies there’s something wrong with sadness, fear, or joy and needs to be rid of rather than embraced. This happens largely because others feel bad when you do. They don’t know how to make you feel better.
- If early life doesn’t teach you to feel unlovable then “estrangement from your experience often will”.
Thankfully we can fix our perception and get rid of the negative self image. Before we jump into some small yet powerful ways you can help yourself there’s one thing. You have to be willing, right here and now, to love yourself. This takes no effort and even the smallest thought allowing yourself to experience what you’re feeling is in fact loving yourself. Alright, here we go!
1. Regardless of anyone else you are worthy
This is a truth you must engrain within in order to love yourself. Did your boyfriend cheat on you? Were you upset when someone cut you off in traffic? In both of these situations, the other person is the one with the problem. We’re so used to thinking poor action, by others, is a result of us. Our worth and value. Remember, most people act based on the thoughts and perceptions they hold.
When I find myself questioning my worth or value I do a quick shake of the head and think “No. I am worthy regardless of what anyone else thinks or feels.” Then I keep moving forward even if I have a hard time believing it. The realm of your personal power expands when you can acknowledge a thought exists but choose to only focus on positive ones.
I’ve become better at noticing the situations in which I place unfair blame on myself and have successfully released guilt’s heavy grip. Over time, my sense of self respect, love and happiness has increased.
2. Fix the slideshow in your mind
We choose the thoughts and beliefs we pay attention to and create the movie/narrative of our life. We must decide here and now to tame the wilderness of our emotions. To have so much love for ourselves that we love the negative parts. How can I love the best of me if I can’t the worst?
A great way to love yourself, too, is to tweak what you read, write, say, and do. Read uplifting, inspiring books. Learn about self esteem and what it is. Serve other people to take thoughts off of yourself. Begin and end your days with something you love to do to show yourself you’re capable. Don’t be around people who are toxic and negative. After all we’re the sum of the 5 people we hang out with the most.
It’s easier than it seems to create an environment which supports self love. Don’t be one of those people who depends solely on others for happiness or solutions to problems. You’re capable and able to do for yourself. Growth of any kind will be painful at first but soon you’ll be happier than you ever imagined.
3. Change your false beliefs
Thoughts create beliefs which create action. Science can back up the idea that the more we think something the more our brains physically strengthen that connection (explained beautifully in The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science ).
In Learning to Love Yourself, Hendricks recommends allowing yourself to experience everything you feel. If you feel upset because your day isn’t going as planned then internally say “I love you even though you’re upset right now”. If you find you’re not able to love yourself say “I love you for not being able to love yourself”. Basically, no matter what stage of belief you’re in, you can love yourself.
This way you’re allowing what you feel to come into your realm of experience. This is love. Acknowledging and experiencing every part of you. Try observing yourself and find the root of why you have certain limiting or self hating beliefs. Love yourself for them and try to understand your issues from the outside looking in. Just like the example of the author taking personally his mother’s issues perhaps we’ve done the same.
If a person is the cause of your bad feelings then you may want to remove them from your life. Relationships are one of the most important factors in having a better life. It’s important to support yourself in any way you can.
4. Write affirmations and make it clear
A good friend of mine was struggling with the negative belief that she wasn’t going to be a good mom a couple weeks before her due date. Instead of wallowing around, accepting defeat, she stuck post it notes all over her home which said “I was made for this!”. This was such a beautiful example of rewriting a false belief by using affirmations.
Typically affirmations begin with “I am” followed by whatever feeling you want to have about yourself. The key is to affirm what you want to believe (future) not necessarily what you believe now (present). Some of my affirmations are “I am changing people’s lives with what I do” and “I am worthy by making and sharing my creative work regardless of the outcome”. I created these when I felt discouraged and defeated about my clothing shop and feared writing every day. I can honestly say repeating these affirmations daily has helped me to overcome.
Once a particular belief has been overcome, I’ll write new affirmations and repeat the process. You can repeat one affirmation a day or have a whole list (like I do). This can be flexible to your needs.
4. See the positives
There are two ways to express a thought or observation. Negatively or positively. This has to be the toughest thing for me at the moment. My brain has been fighting tooth and nail against me the more I focus on every thought being a positive one. My emotions keep swinging but I know this is part of the process. When I’ve felt resistance I followed Hendrick’s advice to love myself. So I say, “I love you for struggling to be positive” and guess what? A weight lifted. I felt peace.
Positivity also rises in correlation to gratitude. For this, I’ve used my 5 Minute Journal to write 3 things I’m grateful for every morning.
5. Focus on the vision and love yourself
At the end of the day, learning to love yourself is a tough but gratifying road. You can read articles like mine all day long but really none of it matters unless you commit. Commit to be willing to love yourself through the emotional days. Through the moments where you give up and completely break down (this happened to me just today). But when that happens, allow yourself to try again. To start fresh and to keep using the steps listed above. These may seem too easy or small but I promise they will make a powerful difference.