The #1 Skill You'll Need to Start Loving Yourself
No one can love you if you don't love yourself first.
We hear these things all of the time. It's become cliche. And people say it like it's easy. Like it's something you just decide to do. As if it's a conscious decision to be made or a series of self-care acts.
What I have observed, both personally and professionally, is that self-love takes a considerable amount of deliberate and intentional practice.
So, what makes it so difficult? Why do we need to be reminded to love ourselves?
Why do so many meet the task of loving ourselves with resistance?
Some would say that the ability to love ourselves is directly linked to our self-esteem.
In other words, what do you think about you? Are you a bad person because of past mistakes? Are you stupid? Unattractive? Unworthy?
How do you speak to yourself? I’m not talking about out loud. I mean your internal dialogue.
Have you ever paid attention to the conversation that you have with yourself?
**Take one minute to turn off your phone or close your computer and just listen to your inner chatter, then come back to this post.**
Finished? What were you saying to yourself?
Were you kind to yourself? Patient? What about critical or harsh?
Most of us are so used to our internal dialogue that we don’t even notice how we speak to ourselves--it just becomes a habit.
By now, you might be wondering what in the world this has to do with learning to love yourself. I’m getting there...stay with me.
Take a moment to think about the components of love. What do we mean when we say ‘love’? Here are a few words that come to my mind when I think about love (and I’m sure you can think of a few more):
So if you think about what is actually required to actively love, you might see why loving yourself isn’t always as easy and simple as getting in the mirror and saying “I love you” over and over again. (However, mirror work is amazing! But that’s another post).
A case for self-compassion
Instead of addressing a lack of self-love with a decision to love yourself, I’d like to make a case for self-compassion instead. Let me tell you why.
Most people don’t actually know what to do when someone tells them that they need to learn to love themselves. Many times they will listen, agree, and proceed to make declarations.
But then what? Months down the road, you may learn that these same #lovinmyself folks are demonstrating actions and behaviors that are totally inconsistent with someone who loves who they are.
Why? Because you can’t just tell yourself to love yourself! I wish it were that simple.
Remember, love is an action word and self-compassion forces you to actively pay attention to your self-talk and respond in a loving, supportive way.
It’s not that the voice of self-compassion lies to you or puffs you up, but rather, self-compassion is like a loving mother, who can clearly see where you’ve f-ed up and loves you all the same. Self-compassion knows that your worth is never diminished because of past (or present) mistakes. She’s honest--”You made a mistake my love, but I love you just the same”--and she means it.
What if you could talk to yourself and treat yourself with the same care and loving-kindness that you would with someone that you love, admire, and respect?
How to practice self-compassion
Kristin Neff, Ph.D., associate professor in human development at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, describes three components of self-compassion: kindness, a sense of common humanity, and mindfulness. For the sake of illustrating what self-compassion looks like, we’ll use the following scenario:
You’ve been trying to change your diet in order to improve your health and appearance. However, after a stressful couple of weeks at work and in your relationship, you completely fall of the wagon and start eating fast-food again.
How could you apply self-compassion to the situation above?
1 // Kindness--When something goes wrong in your life, think about how you might respond to yourself with kindness. Using the example above, kindness might look like reminding yourself of all of the healthy food choices you made prior to falling off the wheel. Kindness would continue to encourage you, giving you a high-five despite your temporary set back.
2 // A Sense of Common Humanity--If we, again, use our example above, a sense of common humanity might say, “I’m not the first one to fall of the wheel while dieting”. Being disciplined with exercising and eating healthy can be a struggle for all of us. For some reason when we “mess up” in any area that we’re trying to make an improvement, there’s this tendency to think that we’re all alone. In reality, whether we know these people or not, we’re really just one of many others trying to do the best we can. Whatever you’re facing, you’re never alone in your thoughts, feelings, or experiences. Remember that!
3 // Mindfulness--The only moment that any of us has is now. So you fell of the wagon with your diet? Outside of offering yourself kindness and encouragement about your past healthy eating successes (for the purposes of remembering what you’re capable of), the buck stops there. There’s nothing else that reminding yourself of where you used to be can offer you. Otherwise you run the risk of getting into self-criticism and judgement. The same goes for putting all of your focus and energy on the future and where you think you should be. The best you can do is to offer yourself loving-kindness, reminded by the fact that you’re not alone, all while directing your attention to the here and now. Allow yourself to recognize and feel whatever it is that you’re feeling. Explore those feelings—what’s really going on? Sprinkle kindness all along the way. And then decide how you might take a step towards being where you want to be. The only way to get there is to truly be in each moment along the way.
Self-compassion is the prerequisite
The next time someone tells you to love yourself, dig in your mental/emotional health toolbox and activate self-compassion instead. It would be nice to just will ourselves into loving who we are, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple. We could all benefit from tangible actions to help in the journey to learning how to actively love who we are...and that’s what self-compassion does.
Planning on exploring self-compassion a bit more? Go for it:
So, what’s your story?
What do you think about this self-compassion thing? And what has helped you to learn to love yourself? We want to know! Share with us in the comments.