Love yourself first is a phrase we hear all too often. We’re told it’s the answer to many of life’s problems from self-confidence to inviting others to love us. Why is it so hard? Why is accepting that you’re good enough to be loved more difficult than loving another? Science might not have all the answers, but they offer techniques and tips to assist you on your journey.
“Above all, be true to yourself, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it.”—Unknown.
Learning to love yourself takes time, practice, and patient. It’s an ongoing battle that you’ll face frequently. Sometimes you invent the nagging doubt, but comments and actions from those around us can trigger a self-loathing spiral that feels like there’s no way out. The worst part? You might feel you don’t deserve your own love.
WHAT IS SELF-LOVE?
“Your task is not to seek for Love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”–Rumi, thirteenth-century Sufi poet.
Self-love is a physical and mental process. You put your needs first, which can be hard if you believe you don’t deserve it. We’re talking basic human needs, such as showering and eating right.
It’s more than that. PsychCentral gives a wonderful mental example with gift giving to show the different thought process we can have with and without self-love. (1)
WHAT DOESN’T COUNT AS SELF-LOVE
• Doing anything so others will like you or notice you more
• Anything that harms you
• Saying yes all the time, even when you don’t want to or can’t
• Saying no to your basic needs
WHY YOU SHOULD LEARN TO LOVE YOURSELF
Self-love matters because it can lead you deeper into depression. It spirals downward from there, affecting every area of your life from work to friends to family.
However, you don’t need a mental illness to fall into the self-hatred cycle. Everyone has bad days where their own thoughts or actions of others swoop in and leave them mind numbingly frozen.
When those sporadic days turn to a daily occurrence, you’re walking down a darker, dangerous road. Only you can search within to find the power to lift yourself up before it’s too late. Deep depression is one possible side effect when you refuse to love yourself, but self-harm and suicide can be results too. (2)
Yes, the problem is partly in your viewpoint of yourself—inside and out. You do have the power within to love yourself, and only you can unlock that tight hold self-hatred has on you.
LEARN TO LOVE YOURSELF: A LIFELONG JOURNEY
“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”–Edmund Hillary (the first man to climb Mt. Everest).
From an early age, about eight years old, I hated myself in one way or another. I was too ugly, too fat, too geeky, and yes, too smart. No one wanted to be my friend. When kids threw cruel barbs, I didn’t blame them.
I blamed myself.
I carried the shame and hatred close to my heart. It was my fault. I was broken, unlovable, and the bane of my own existence. Some days, more than I’d like to admit, I’m still battling the same demons.
I’ll be honest. Learning to love yourself and re-love yourself is a road you’re unlikely to leave. This is especially true for those like me who also have mental illness. For me, it’s Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), which doctors didn’t officially diagnose until I was in my 20’s.
Another 10 years would pass before I discovered the root of both my self-hatred and BPD. Now, 10 years later, I still am on the same journey to mastering self-love.
It’s never too late to learn to love yourself.
HOW TO LOVE YOURSELF: 5 POWERFUL TECHNIQUES BY EXPERTS
1. PRACTICE SELF-CARE
Self-care is truly an article unto itself because it spans many areas of your life that you might overlook for numerous reasons. The root remains the same—you believe you’re undeserving.
This can lead you to deny human basics like showering, exercising, and eating nourishing foods. Self-care can delve deeper and be the difference between seeking help and doing nothing. It can mean learning to laugh again.
Other times, you might be in a predicament that forces you to put another’s needs above your own. At least it seems that way on the surface, but it’s not always the case. If needed, take a step back from a situation and analyze it before giving a response.
SELF LOVE IDEAS AND TIPS
• Get enough sleep
• Eat a well-rounded, nourishing diet that fits your ideals and lifestyle
• Exercise and move your body to release endorphins and reduce stress
• Bathe and practice good hygiene
• Say no if a person’s request compromises your self-love
• Do something small just for you every day, such as reading or another hobby you love
“The most powerful relationship you will ever have is the relationship with yourself.”–Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free.
2. WRITE YOURSELF A LETTER
Kristin Neff, an associate professor of Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, believes practicing self-compassion is a key element to loving yourself.
Write the letter as if you were looking at someone else. This isn’t a letter from your inner self to inner self to vilify with self-loathing. Pretend you aren’t viewing yourself, but looking at someone else through another’s eyes.
What would you say to that person if they were in front of you? Write that down, seal it up, and put it in a safe place. Open and read it as a reminder of self-worth and why you should show yourself love and compassion.
ACCORDING TO NEFF, SELF-COMPASSION LEADS TO INCREASED:
• Inner strength
• Level headedness
• Stress management
• Emotional stability
3. HAVE A HEART-TO-HEART WITH YOURSELF
Self-talks are a scientifically backed tool to reaffirm your worth in your own life. (3, 4, 5)
This can be a preventative measure or a coping mechanism you can use anywhere, including work, a social event, or in school. To some, it might seem silly.
You’re going to talk to yourself. You’re going to reaffirm every positive aspect within and outside of you. You’re going to place a sock in your inner critic’s mouth and shut it down.
Self-talk methods do take time to develop, and they work best under the care and guidance of a trained professional. Your doctor or therapist helps you point out your negative thoughts and words, then they teach you how to make them into positive reaffirmations.
One tip researchers found helpful is to refer to yourself in the third person or by your name. You can also give you inner critic a negative or bad name. I use demons, but that works for me. The language you use and how you use it during self-talks matters.
4. KEEP A NEGATIVE THOUGHT JOURNAL
It doesn’t matter if they’re your own views or triggered by someone else’s opinion. Negative thoughts that don’t offer constructive criticism have no place in your life. Diffuse your own self-criticism and the opinions of others quickly with this trick.
Every negative thought, word, and feeling, you write it down. Use the recording feature on your phone or computer. Read or listen to your hate filled words.
Ask yourself if you would say that to another person. No? Why then would you say it to yourself?
Take it a step further. If you dared to say though words to a friend, how would they feel or react? Most likely they’d have a negative reaction and rightfully so.
Here’s the takeaway from this exercise. If you wouldn’t say to your closest friend, don’t say it or think it about yourself. Reaffirm the positives even in a negative situation.
EXAMPLES OF POSITIVELY TWISTING YOUR INNER NEGATIVE THOUGHTS AND WORDS
Negative you says, “I’ll never be good enough for him.”
Positive you says, “The only person I need to be good enough for is myself, and I am good enough.”
Negative you says, “It’s too much work. I’ll never finish by the deadline, and nobody cares enough to offer help.”
Positive you says, “I got this. Just one step at a time. I’ll ask around to see if my co-workers can lend a hand.”
5. PRACTICE LOVING-KINDNESS MEDITATION
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love & affection.”—Buddha
Dr. Helen Weng from the University of Wisconsin developed this compassion meditation technique. It’s a versatile and powerful technique that you can master and utilize self-love and to love others.
You can use her guided meditation to tackle past issues that are still commanding your thoughts and daily life. It’s also useful for new events and self-loathing thoughts that surface for any reason, including things other people say to you.
Meditation in general can help to reaffirm positivity because it teaches us to live in the now. You can further your practice by incorporating breathing techniques and yoga (movement) into your routine for a total mind-body connection that squashes the toughest Negative Nancy.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON HOW TO LOVE YOURSELF
No matter what season of life you’ve reached, it’s never too late to practice self-love and learn to love yourself.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Talk to a doctor, a close friend, or join a safe space forum for support. You’re worth it, so don’t allow your negative self the power to stop you.
Your journey begins fresh with each new day. Tamper down your inner cynic, stare it down in the mirror, and remove its power. Practice the techniques shared here by experts to keep it in check.
You’re worth it.