How do you love yourself?
This question might seem familiar. Last year, I wrote an article called For the Love of You, which began with the question, “Do you love yourself?” I wrote about the importance of self-love and how it can change your life to break the internal cycle of self-hatred that we learn to perpetuate. If you haven’t read it, or if you haven’t revisited it since I posted it, I would encourage you to read through it again.
It’s easy to acknowledge, “I should love myself,” but it’s not at all easy to actually start taking the steps towards loving yourself. It’s the how that’s the challenge; when we spend so much of our life forming the habit of self-hatred, it takes a lot of strength and courage to re-route those hard-worn paths in our mind. For example, if we think, “I’m so ugly” every time we look in the mirror for twenty years, it’s unrealistic that we will be able to merely click off that impulse overnight. So, above all, don’t be discouraged if loving yourself is not easy. But once we develop new habits of speaking to ourself, it will get easier. This article is to empower you with the tools to begin your own success with self-love.
Recognizing Old Habits
One of the first practices we should do is to evaluate the different ways that our self-hatred manifests itself in our lives. Recognize the way you speak to yourself and the different ways you fixate on your self-declared inadequacies. When you make a mistake, are you yelling at yourself over and over again in your head? When you look in the mirror, are you zeroing in on the things you hate about yourself? When you see someone beautiful on Twitter or read someone’s cool tweet, are you then comparing yourself to them, wishing you were more like them? Are you jealous of the new person at work because you feel inferior to them? Are you pointing out the flaws in others to make yourself feel better? Do you spend your time thinking about what you could do to look more conventionally beautiful, by means of expensive cosmetics, new clothes, or even plastic surgery?
Even though a lot of these self-deprecating mental practices are probably habits by now, recognizing that they are not healthy and problematic is a first step. We shouldn’t be ashamed that we feel these ways, because it happens. It’s not our fault that our culture motivates us to hate ourselves. But now that we recognize this, it is our responsibility to try to love ourselves, for the sake of our own quality of life. Remember, you are the person who must love yourself. You must make an effort to love yourself, or it won’t come to fruition.
Maybe during this step, you might want to consider some of the roots of your self-hatred. Did you used to get bullied for your weight? Did your parents used to put a lot of pressure on you to be the smartest person in the room? Or was it more self-inflicted, as you spent a lot of time engaging in unhealthy online communities? Coming to grips with where your self-hatred stems might help you let go of it better. In sixth grade, some kid made a rude comment to me about my nose, and last year it really occurred to me that I was still hanging on to that. Was I really going to let what some immature, smelly, pre-adolescent boy said about my nose infect my self-image for the rest of my life? Ha!
A method I’ve developed when I’m facing emotional struggles is to lay it all out, recognize everything that’s at play inside me, look the problem square in the eyes, and then talk to myself with compassion. I do this in my journal a lot, after I’ve vented. For this exercise on self-love, recognize what you are hung up on, and then try saying this to yourself:
It is sad that you hate yourself. It is sad that you are not enjoying your beautiful life to its fullest potential because you feel so deeply unsatisfied with who you are and how you look. Self-hatred is a very sad emotion for anyone to feel. It is sad that you can only see bad things about yourself, and not who you are as an incredible, complex, miraculous person. You have come a long way in your life. You are much stronger and wiser than you used to be. You have no idea how many lives that you have touched. You are so much bigger than your insecurities. It is sad that you hate yourself. But you do not have to hate yourself. You can let that go. It will be work, but you have to let that go. It is time to stop hating yourself.
Sometimes when you speak to yourself with compassion, you can say the things you wish someone else would say to you. The beautiful thing about this is that you empower yourself. You don’t need someone to intervene and give you a magical speech that motivates you to improving your life; you can do that for yourself, at any time. I do this exercise with myself. I speak to myself as though I were not myself, and sometimes it gives me a perspective that I really need, because I’m often more compassionate with other people than I am with myself. Show yourself compassion, then empower yourself.
Redirecting Old Habits
When we begin to notice all the self-hating thought patterns we’ve developed over the years, we also begin to realize that we tend to really fixate on only the negative parts of ourself. If we hate our acne, when we look in the mirror, the first thing we’ll look at is any zits we have. Even when we try to look at ourself as a whole, we still pay attention to the thing we don’t like.
The funny thing about this is that when other people look at us, they’re not concentrated on our acne. Perhaps they notice it, but they have so many other things going on in their head that they’re not going to spend the rest of their day thinking about how we have acne. Look at it this way: you spend most of your day thinking about yourself. Most other people spend most of their day thinking about themselves, as well.
So now that we see more clearly the insidious nature of our self-hatred, we can begin to re-direct these habits. We look in the mirror, we see our acne, we think, “Ugh, my skin is hideous.” But then a lightbulb goes off and we realize, “Oooh, that was my self-hatred talking.” What do we do now? We try to form a new habit. In this scenario, I would then smile. I would smile at my bad skin, and say or think, “But my skin does its essential job and allows me to be who I am.” Try to think of things you like about yourself, or things that are special about you. Think about all the people you have made laugh through your humor, all the people you have helped through your kindness, and all the people who you’ve made smile simply by smiling at them first. Think about how you create joy and beauty in this world. Your skin doesn’t hold you back from doing any of that.
We tend to compartmentalize every little thing about ourselves, but we are much more than any one tiny element that makes us up. We can fixate on how we hate how our big toe looks, or we can fixate on how we dislike the sound of our laugh, or we can fixate on how we don’t catch onto things easily. Any time we find ourselves doing that, we should pull back. There are trillions of factors at play that make up who we are. We are way complex, and so full of emotions and memories and thoughts and ideas and dreams and love and friendships and atoms and water and dirt and chemicals and tissue and bone and—-we are a miracle that lives and grows in relation to all other beings and objects in this universe. We are a phenomenon! It is way too short-sighted and limited for us to dwell on a measly list of things we don’t like about ourselves, when there is an infinite amount of things about us that we can pay attention to instead. When we are who we are, it’s easy to get caught up in the nitty gritty day-to-day things about ourselves, but please, let’s try not to take ourselves for granted. We are incredible.
That’s why, when we find ourselves thinking about one thing we don’t like in the mirror, we should also try to remember all the other things about us. It’s pretty cool that there are so many layers to our own existence, and it’s pretty cool that we’re us. Our culture makes us want to be attractive on the outside, but a.) we can love our appearance no matter how we look, and b.) our outside is mostly important because it connects our soul with the physical world, allowing us to express who we are and do the things we love. I know this can get lost in our culture, because a lot of people are captivated by conventional beauty, and can mistreat people for their looks. But, understand that a lot of people who appear “perfect” (especially famous people) may have personal trainers, a strict diet, a make-up routine that takes hours, and a personal stylist. And that’s great for them, but they may not have the freedom that you and I have, to roll out of bed and be a regular person. The grass seems greener on the other side.
I used to wish that I looked like the beautiful women I saw online. I’d think, “Wow, I wish I looked like them.” But then I started asking myself, “Why? What would I do differently if I looked more conventionally beautiful? What’s so great about looking like a model?” Sure, I can think of a few things that would be nice if I were uber gorgeous, like the constant validation and attention from people complimenting my appearance. Maybe people would notice me more, and so I’d feel more important. But I really started thinking, “Is that what I want? Do I really want attention, do I really want strangers to be so fixated on my appearance? Would beauty change anything about my life?” I finally realized that no, that’s not actually important to me. My whole life, I was somehow convinced that beauty was what I wanted, what I should want, and then it finally occurred to me that this physical attractiveness I was pining over was… kind of meaningless to me. The things I want to do in life—-write stories, help people, travel, etc—-don’t have anything to do with how I look. I can be the person I want to be without changing how I look at all. Especially because the person I am is beautiful in my own way. What an eye-opening epiphany! I had spent so much of my life hating how I looked for no good reason, and without questioning it.
I hope you can realize the same about yourself. Ask yourself, “Why do I want to be beautiful so much? Would my life really be better? Would people really like me more?” Probably not—-at least, not in a meaningful way. You don’t have to look a certain way to accomplish the things you want to accomplish. People might be mean, and say cruel things about how you look, but please know that when people say hurtful things about your appearance, it is only indicative about the quality of their character, not yours. If someone ever calls you ugly or teases you for one of your features, they are doing so because their heart is in a bad place. We should feel sorry for them. And we should also remember to be kind to others, as well.
Self-Love in Practice
Sometimes, in the beginning, it helps to have a list of things you love about yourself. Try to add a new thing to the list every day. Do this for as long as you can, challenging yourself to love a new part of yourself every day—-not just physical features, but features of your personality, as well. This list can be helpful because it encourages you to pay attention to the good things about you, rather than the bad.
Also, paying attention to the good in others helps us love ourselves more, too. Try to compliment others, and this will create a lot of good energy in your life. Who and what you surround yourself with is important. If you have a friend that is very critical of you, maybe it’s time to sit down with them and let them know that their words are actually very hurtful, or that they need to frame their criticisms in a better, more productive way. (Because sometimes we need to be called out on things, but hopefully our loved ones are doing so in a kind and healthy way.) Think about the types of accounts you follow on social media; if you only follow models and and celebrities, think about curating your social media feed so that see more content from leaders you admire, or from people who promote good messages, or from people who have similar interests as you, such as cooking, or marathon-running, or video games, or gardening.
If we find ourselves filling our free time with self-hating habits, maybe we need to find some new hobbies. Personally, when I start feeling down, it’s usually because I’m not reading a book at the time; I like reading so much because it allows my mind to focus on a story or a situation outside my life. Look into yoga classes, or learning how to paint, or try tie-dying, or take up rock-climbing. Sometimes, when we work a lot at our job, we don’t realize that we’ve lost some of our hobbies along the way, and hobbies are important. They add to our quality of life and give us something to be excited about, pressure-free. Remember, you don’t have to be amazing at your hobbies. If you enjoy painting but aren’t as skilled as your favorite painter, that’s okay; the important thing is that you paint and enjoy it. It’s something you do for yourself, and no one else. That’s special. That’s beautiful. Challenge yourself to do something you don’t think you’ll be good at, but try enjoying it anyway. Laugh when you make a mistake, instead of criticizing yourself.
Help empower your friends to love themselves, too. Spreading love can often make us feel much better in general.
Does your best friend hate herself? How does that make you feel? Do you feel like you don’t understand how she could hate herself when you know that she is such a wonderful person? Know that your loved ones feel the same way about you, when you hate yourself. Your loved ones want you to be happy and love yourself they way they love you. They don’t care if you’re having a bad hair day, or if you’ve put on twenty pounds since high school, or if you have a big zit on your chin—-they love you for all of you, as a whole.
Appreciate yourself for your unique role in life. For example, I’m a pretty introverted person. I don’t often like to be in the spotlight, and I find I enjoy myself most when I’m not the main entertainer in a group. However, in the past, I used to get down on myself about this. I would be in a group, and there would be a person who was getting all the laughs and attention, and I’d think, “Wow, I wish I was more like them.” Eventually, I realized, that’s not my role here. I’m the person who makes quieter wise cracks, and that’s my function within the group dynamic. I don’t have to be like that other person; I can just be like me. And then I found I enjoyed myself a lot more, because I wasn’t spending the entire time wishing to be someone I wasn’t meant to be. I’m meant to be me. I have a lot of different moods and purposes, and in certain groups, I’m the quiet one, and in other groups, maybe I’m the more chatty one. That’s okay with me. My friends like me for what I do, and who I am.
Journalling is also an amazing practice. Even if you don’t struggle with self-love, I would recommend developing journalling as a practice to anyone. We all need to set aside some time for self-reflection, and writing is an incredible strategy for getting your thoughts and feelings out. It can be scary at first, if you haven’t done it for a while; it can feel like stage fright. But now, any time I’m upset, sad, or even happy, I’ll feel the need to return to my journal and organize my emotions, working through what’s going on inside of me. Sometimes, I don’t even realize something about myself until I’ve written it down and read it over. It’s a really special thing you can do for yourself, to give yourself that private moment of letting anything out, no shame, no pressure, no judgment. I think journalling is a very brave thing for people to do.
Also, remember that you don’t have to be anyone else but you, and you’re constantly growing every day. If you’re a teenager, know that you still have so much life to live, and it may be years before you fully come into yourself, so don’t feel discouraged. Even if you’re in your fifties, it’s not too late to start loving yourself, because every day is a new day, and a new opportunity for joy and growth. You don’t have to live your life like anyone else, and you don’t have to look like anyone but you. Just be the best version of who you feel you are in your heart, and love that person. Just do your best—-that’s all you can do. Again, this is easier said than done, but if you remind yourself this every day, you will start to feel a difference.
Loving yourself is hard, but it’s one of the most important things you can do for yourself. Once you love yourself, a lot of things in your life start to get better, directly or indirectly. When you hate yourself, your perception feels dim and clouded, and can hold you back from true joy. That’s why I want to share these techniques, because maybe they will help you, in any way, begin to feel that love for yourself.
In my first self-love article, I wrote that hating ourselves is not natural. We don’t exist in this world with the inherent instinct to hate ourselves; we learn self-hatred from our culture. Unlearning this can be hard, but it is possible. I know this because nobody has to teach you how to love; love is something we feel naturally, in our hearts, even if we don’t know how to express it. Love is natural. Let yourself feel love for yourself; stop holding yourself back from receiving your own love. You are inherently deserving of love. You are deserving of your own love. This world loves you. Help yourself to love you, too. We believe in you.
For more articles like this, visit the Slanted Spines’ Mindful Living page, which features articles about encouragement, overcoming our emotional barriers, and living our most joyful life.