Written By Julie Paiva, CHHC
Did you ever pass out little candy hearts to your friends as a kid? “Be Mine”, “Love Me”, “You’re The One”, “Hug Me”, “Top Dog”, “Cool Cat” and “Purr Fect” are a few of the sayings on them. It is often so easy for us to say these things to our loved ones or even someone we are interested in getting to know, but how often do we say these things to ourselves. For most of us, the answer is rarely.
Self-love is important to living well. Many of us don’t even know what “self-love” is. Self-love is so much more than talking about bubble baths, pedicures or trips to the spa. It is more than just pampering ourselves. In fact, most of us spend our days doing the opposite of self-love. We spend the majority of our time, betting ourselves up with negative internal thoughts and “joking” or criticizing our faults throughout the day with those we come in contact with.
Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. When we act in ways that expand self-love in us, we begin to accept much better our weaknesses as well as our strengths, have less need to explain away our short-comings, have compassion for ourselves, refrain from harshly judging or punishing ourselves for every mistake we make, or compare ourselves to others. When we exercise self-loving behaviors, we are fully accepting of ourselves.
Here are some ways to be more self-loving to yourself…
People who have more self-love tend to know what they think, feel and want. They are mindful of who they are and act on this knowledge, rather than on what others want for them. Pay attention to your internal thoughts. When something negative comes across your mind about yourself, cancel it out with a positive thought about a trait you have. Make a conscious decision to sit with whatever negative feeling is there and try to accept it — because it’s there anyway — rather than pushing it away. If it’s a negative thought, look for the underlying emotion (anxiety, sadness, or anger), or scan your body to see where you feel tension or discomfort. You may feel it in your chest, belly, shoulders, throat, face, jaw, or other areas. Often the negative thoughts we think about ourselves, we would never say about someone else. In your mind’s eye, imagine your loved one being scared or sad or feeling bad about themselves. Then, think about what you might feel. Perhaps you would feel the urge to help or comfort them. Try to direct this compassionate mindset toward yourself. If you notice any resistance or thoughts of “I don’t deserve compassion,” acknowledge them, and try to direct compassion to yourself anyway. You may want to ask yourself why you think others deserve compassion but not you. Be kind to yourself!
Practice good self-care
You will love yourself more when you take better care of your basic needs. People high in self-love nourish themselves daily through healthy activities, like eating well, exercising, getting plenty of sleep and having healthy social interactions. Remember you can’t take care of others if you have nothing to give. So taking care of yourself first is not selfish. It is actually helping you to spread more love to your loved ones.
You’ll love yourself more when you set limits or say no to work, love, or activities that deplete or harm you physically, emotionally and spiritually, or express poorly who you are. Stay away from people or activities that leave you feeling drained or bad about yourself. It is ok to say “No”.
We can be so hard on ourselves. The downside of taking responsibility for our actions is punishing ourselves too much for mistakes in learning and growing. You have to accept your mistakes (the fact that you are not perfect), before you can truly love yourself. Practice being less hard on yourself when you make a mistake. Remember, there are no failures; if you have learned and grown from your mistakes, there are only lessons learned. We are not perfect and should not expect ourselves to live flawlessly 100% of the time. If you can’t feel compassion for yourself because you feel undeserving or “bad,” try to think about this as an old story. Notice the old story of why you are bad. Now find a way to challenge this interpretation. If you acted in an unhealthy or irresponsible way, ask yourself if there were circumstances that influenced your behavior. Perhaps you experienced past trauma, or you were caught in a stressful situation. Now make a commitment to try to learn from the experience, rather than beat yourself up over it. Are there other, kinder ways to view the situation? Are you expecting yourself to be perfect, rather than allowing yourself to be human? Be gentle with yourself!
You will accept and love yourself more, whatever is happening in your life, when you live with purpose and design. Your purpose doesn’t have to be crystal clear to you. If your intention is to live a meaningful and healthy life, you will make decisions that support this intention, and feel good about yourself when you succeed in this purpose. You will love yourself more if you see yourself accomplishing what you set out to do. You need to establish your living intentions to do this. Spend some time figuring out what is important to you.
Start small! Working on any or all of these steps will help you grow your self-love quotient. Self-love is not something you acquire and keep forever. The more your self-love grows, the better you feel in all areas of your life. It is true that you can only love a person as much as you love yourself. The more self-love you have for yourself, the better prepared you are for healthy relating. Even more, you will start to attract people and circumstances to you that support your well-being. This year be your own Valentine! Write yourself a Valentine’s Day card telling your self what you love about you. Do some self-care activities, forgive yourself for being human, live with purpose and pay attention to your thoughts. Be as kind and loving to yourself as you would to all the people that you love!
Happy Valentine’s Day!