We all know intellectually that we should love ourselves. But putting this knowledge into practice is a whole different story. How do you drown out the voices telling you that you should be thinner, richer, funnier, more fashionable, more youthful, and so forth? How do you jump off the exhausting hamster wheel of harmful thoughts and emotions that drag you down? How do you start truly believing that yes, you are worthy of all the love you have to give…right this minute?
First, realize that you aren’t treating yourself with love. While not accepting, loving, and valuing yourself can manifest in many ways, here are some common culprits:
- Seeing yourself as a victim
- Blaming yourself for disappointing or undesirable circumstances
- Being judgmental and/or critical of yourself
- Feeling that the weight of the world is on your shoulders
- Consistently looking for someone (or something) to make you happy
Perhaps you’ve spent your entire life being weighed down by these thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions, listening to these critical and judgmental voices, without even realizing what a terrible disservice you’re doing yourself.
My own “aha” moment happened a little over a year ago. I was on the beach in Mexico feeling engulfed with angst and sadness that all my years of striving to be a better person, better speaker, better writer, better everything had not changed me into the amazing person I wanted to become. Suddenly, in a flash of insight, I realized that all my struggles were wasted energy.
I realized that according to the law of physics, energy cannot be made into more or less. It simply is what it is. The shape can be transformed, like water and ice, but no one can ever be more than what they are. I realized I could stop the endless gymnastic gyrations to mold me into something else. In that moment I saw that I was perfect just the way I was. I didn’t have to be better or different.
I saw that God/Source had created me and I was perfect. I saw that all there is is love and love can’t be measured. There isn’t big love and small love, with small love being not as good as big love. No, love is simply love and can not be measured. I loved others. I could love myself too. I could accept myself exactly as I was.
Stop expecting perfection. It doesn’t exist. In order to love yourself, you have to accept the fact that you are going to make mistakes and that you’ll never achieve perfection. (And what if perfection is an illusion, anyway?) When you constantly expect every aspect of your life to be just-so, you inevitably end up judging yourself, blaming yourself, and resenting yourself.
So what if you’ve gained 10 pounds in the past year? So what if you haven’t had time to touch up your roots? So what if your house is a little messy? Who wrote the rule book that says everyone needs to be a size eight, have perfect hair, and live in a spotless house? (Probably no one you’d want to share a bottle of wine with, that’s for sure!) And ask yourself this: If you see yourself as a screw-up and a let-down, why should a partner (or friend, or boss, or mentor) view you any differently?
Reframe how you see mistakes by first forgiving yourself and then by asking yourself what you’ve learned. Give thanks for the opportunity to grow and become wiser. This attitude will keep you from dwelling on limiting and punishing thoughts and sabotaging your intention to love yourself.
Focus on the joys, successes, and blessings in your life. Consciously focus on your blessings, successes, and joys. Again, instead of dwelling on disappointments and failures, examine each situation to see what you have learned, then let it go and move on. I recommend doing an Evening Review each night by thinking of the last thing that happened to you, then retracing your steps back through the day to when you woke up. You’ll see exactly how things came together with fresh eyes, and you might just begin to look at your life in a whole new appreciative way.
I have found that by doing the Evening Review, I become more conscious of my day and my life, and instead of going to bed focusing on the two or three things I didn’t get to do or wasn’t satisfied with, I am amazed at all I did do. I also find myself feeling thankful for the people I had an opportunity to be with and love. After the Evening Review I go to bed in such a place of awe and gratitude. I am honestly thrilled to be me.”
Allow yourself to really feel your feelings. We allow s-words—“should” and “supposed to”—to rule our lives. As a result, we ignore or push away authentic feelings and reactions. For example, you’re “supposed to” be calm and collected, so you may resist allowing emotions like sadness or anger to be present. That’s a mistake. It’s important to allow yourself to acknowledge and experience everything you feel.
I have found that when you allow yourself to completely feel a certain emotion, you’ll often ‘drop’ to another underlying feeling, which will in turn ‘drop’ you to another, and so on. You keep dropping until, finally, you drop into joy and bliss and love. But you have to experience and explore each feeling fully and completely before it drops to the next one.
That’s where many people have trouble. They don’t realize that by cutting off one feeling, usually an unpleasant one, we cut off all our feelings. That includes love, joy, bliss, and happiness, as well as the sadness and anger that we don’t want to feel. So if you feel the need to cry or maybe to confront someone with your true feelings, do it. It’s the only way to get to the feelings that support love.
Be who you are—not who others say you are, who you wish you were, or who you want to be. Throughout our lives, from childhood on, others assign characteristics to us. They can be positive (Wow, you’re so smart!) or negative (You’re such a wallflower!). We tend to cling to the positive characteristics while trying to shed or hide the negative ones. And eventually, “you” becomes more of a mask than an authentic person. If you want to show yourself love and respect, it’s time to let go of old, outdated beliefs that don’t represent the truth of who you are.
A lot of our suffering comes from trying to make ourselves (or another person or situation) different from what simply is…which is an exercise in futility.
Look inward and identify old beliefs that are no longer serving you and that are holding you back from living your best life; for example, I am unlovable. Allow yourself to feel one more time what carrying each belief is like. Then, let it go. I use a method that I was told came from Dr. Roger Callahan that is very effective when it comes to shedding old, erroneous beliefs…just like deleting a file on your computer.
Just bring the sides of your hands together in a ‘karate chop’ motion, letting them touch directly below each of your little fingers,” she adds. “As you repeat this motion, say: I deeply and completely love, accept, and respect myself, even though I needed to believe I was not worthy of love (or whatever outmoded belief you are working with). Repeat this phrase over and over and over again while doing the karate chop.”
Don’t allow others to narrate your story. As we go through life, lots of things “happen” to us. You may not always be able to choose which events and circumstances come into your life, but you can decide what meaning you attach to them, and whether or not your story is self-affirming.
In the context of relationships, say for example that you and your significant other have separated. You can create a story of fear and being a victim: He/she left me because I’m a failure and a disappointment. Or, you can create a story of love and empowerment: Our relationship ended because we were no longer pushing each other to grow in positive ways. It is best for us to part paths so that we can continue becoming our best selves.
We can create a new story any time we choose. Once you realize this, you will find it truly liberating. Why would you choose a story to beat yourself up with? When you love yourself, you won’t. It’s that simple.”
Show yourself the love you’ve been seeking. You don’t have to wait to hear the words of love and affirmation you’ve been seeking from others. (If that’s your strategy, there’s no telling how long you’ll wait!) Right now, you can look into your own eyes in a mirror and say all the things you’d like to hear from another. Mean what you say. For example: All is well. I am deeply loved and I love deeply.
When you change the way you view and treat yourself, you’ll find that others start treating you differently as well. Remember, it’s okay to receive love and appreciation from others. But it’s also okay—and encouraged!—to give those things to yourself. The fact is, the only person you can count on to continually show you love is you!”
Engage in what you find meaningful. You have passions, strengths, talents, interests, and curiosities that are unique to you. And when you are in touch with those things, your life will light up and you will live from a place of happiness, fulfillment, and love. If you love to hike, hike. If you love to paint, paint. If you love to garden, garden. Don’t wait until “someday” to jump in and do the things you love with all your heart and soul. Today is yesterday’s “someday”—so why not seize it and make it a day you can rejoice in?
It’s never too late to resurrect that childlike feeling that your world is truly wondrous. Build new rituals and traditions around whatever you find meaningful and magical, and you’ll experience renewed joy and nourishment with the people you love…and most importantly, with yourself.