“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love & affection.” ~Buddha
On a scale of one to ten, how much do you love yourself?
A few years ago, I probably would have answered 2. Things weren’t great. During college, I was running in the 8-9 range… Ignorance was bliss.
Lately, I’ve been “working on me” so my # is genuinely & consistently high, thick or thin, regardless of what’s going on around me.
For a long time, my identity was wrapped up in what I was doing. My perceived self-worth was based on superficial bullshit. When I was done achieving in a system, I had to face myself… and it was ugly. I had no idea who I was. It was tough to define myself. My insides were torn to shreds, but my performance prevented others from understanding that I was really struggling… which hurt even more.
But that intense pain pushed me to learn to love & be happy with myself. It’s been a process, constantly refining & improving. I figure that being able to stay in touch with myself & treat myself with a little less hardcore criticism and a little more understanding can do a whole lot for my whole life.
Self-love seems key to experiencing true joy and freedom.
Growing up, I felt like my true self didn’t have a place. I grew up thinking that I had to conform to a really strict set of acceptable characteristics. It was pretty superficial, judgmental stuff & the fake-ness and hypocrisy I witnessed only made it more infuriating.
The fear of doing wrong & being shunned made me insecure in my own mind, fearing I’d be punished for even thinking something out-of-bounds, much less for who I am (a brown-skinned woman who wasn’t attracted solely to who I was “supposed” to be). I didn’t know myself in so many ways because I couldn’t accept parts of myself. How could I have loved myself?
Now, I am comfortable with my mind & have started to appreciate myself more than ever before. Once I simply started being that person I liked (one who is funny, friendly, full of joy, brave, loud mouthed, good-intentioned), my insides started feeling better. But I’m still super critical & get annoyed with myself (because I forget to trust the process at times!).
It’s hard to realize & change an entire lifetime of conditioning, so it will require a conscious & deliberate effort. Here are a few things that helped me get in touch with & start to love myself:
1. Set boundaries.
A good sign of how much you love yourself is how you let other people treat you. Do they walk all over you? Do you go to the ends of the earth to please them, at the detriment of yourself? Do they speak & act unkindly or disrespectfully or consistently-thoughtlessly?
We’ve all probably experienced some of these things at one point or another in varying degrees. Things happen. It’s a matter of deciding for yourself how much you’ll tolerate.
Setting boundaries is often as simple as knowing when to say no. We worry that people will stop liking us if we do this, but those who care will respect you for it and even change their behavior with you. And those who do walk away weren’t really in it for good reasons.
2. Watch your self-talk.
Like I said, I am verrrry critical of myself. And I used to narrate that criticism. My volleyball coach told me so. And she said my criticism made my teammates insecure, afraid of screwing up. Makes me think of: “If you spoke to your friends the way you speak to yourself, would they still be your friends?”
For a bunch of people, I could answer, “No.” For myself, I could say, “No.”
When I was coaching club volleyball during law school, I was really proud of the improvements I saw in my girls. A big part of it was how I modified their behavior. I related to them. They were eager to do better. I would explain the objective, then we would work to achieving it. Through that process, they could shoot for “correct” and we would change things in order to achieve it.
But I didn’t extend the same patience to myself. I knew how crushing constant criticism was, so I approached my players in a more constructive way. We had to make corrections, but it didn’t have to make them feel sucky.
Now, when I’m conducting internal performance reviews, I imagine saying them to my own face. I remember Little Me who was eager to learn & do well, and remember that I am her… so I try to lift her up, not tear her down.
Plus, we become what we think.
3. Take time to “do you.”
There’s always someone who wants a piece of you—significant others, kids, friends, parents, siblings, phone calls, emails, on & on.
Know who else wants and needs a piece of you? You!
When we truly love someone, we take time to nurture their well-being. How often do you do this for yourself?
Life is busy, but there’s always time. And it’s crucial to make time for yourself. And if you feel like there isn’t time, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the things that you’re cramming your life with. (Ever heard of escapism?)
Exercise, a hobby, time alone, a movie, a little pampering. Giving yourself permission to nurture yourself creates the beliefs that you are worthy and loved.
4. Be honest with yourself and others.
You don’t like when people are dishonest with you. So it follows that they don’t like when you’re dishonest with them. It also works internally – our minds don’t like when we are dishonest with ourselves!
To me, being honest is when my words and actions are consistent with each other and with the standards I’ve set in my mind. For years, I was dishonest with myself and my family. And it caused me bucketloads of pain. It seemed fine. I was managing. Then, I realized I was sending unpleasant & unloving messages to myself: that who I really was, was wrong and shameful.
Being honest about my feelings is a major challenge because it makes me feel vulnerable. But in vulnerability lies great power, so I try and speak my truth as often as possible.
The more you do it, the easier it becomes, and as long as you are not hurting anyone, expression from a place of honesty opens up so much space inside you. You feel free. You feel worthy. You feel loved.
Note: Being honest & being hurtful or hiding criticism behind self-serving self-expression are two very different things.
5. Allow yourself to feel painful emotions, and nurture yourself through them.
For some reason we have learned to shun feelings of hurt, sadness, fear, depression, hopelessness, and so on, as if they are somehow wrong.
Part of being so boxed-in was not breaking appearances or out-and-out dealing with unpleasant things. Unfortunately, those unpleasant things were also really wrong. But repressing them was the norm, so I learned to push everything down, ignore my true feelings (especially if they were “bad”).
Not a great coping mechanism.
When I was sad or hurt, my ego tried to shut it away.
I had little compassion or acceptance for my own feelings of rejection, hurt, and unworthiness. I tried to quickly move on from heartbreak, dealing with everything in my head rather than my heart. So this pain remained inside me, unloved and unhealed.
What if a small child were sad? We’d comfort them because we love them and want them to feel supported. They are fragile. But so are you. We are all fragile when in pain, so we must support ourselves, comfort ourselves, and love ourselves when we need it most.
6. Let yourself off the hook.
There’s no such thing as perfection. Everyone makes mistakes or struggles at some point – it’s natural. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to get everything right all the time.
So isn’t it funny that we berate ourselves—the opposite of love—for not meeting a standard that doesn’t even exist?
When you screw up, acknowledge it. It isn’t the end of the world. Plus, mistakes don’t define you. What you do after them does.
[And this isn’t “let yourself off the hook” in the sense that you should let yourself slip or continue self-destructive behavior. That does just as much of a disservice as harsh self-talk.]
7. Watch who you spend time with.
There’s a theory that we are the average of the five people we spend most time with. My great-grandma once said, “If you lie down with dogs, you’re gonna get up with fleas.”
Peer pressure is real, even as adults. It’s easier, because we have better senses of who we are. But think about how some people only seem to smoke when they’re at the bar or otherwise around people who smoke.
Extrapolate that effect: Being around negative people who have a negative outlook rubs off. People who have no accountability & make excuses will teach you to explain away your situations or lose a sense of objectivity.
Team matters. And we can show ourselves major love by surrounding ourselves with the right team – people who are making a conscious effort to improve.
8. Know who you really are.
Because when you find out who you really are, you won’t be able to help but love yourself.
At also gives you something to always shoot for. The first step of my All In approach is to Select your goal. With a sense of who you are, you have an end goal & can implement step two: Direct your actions.
Plus, we are all so unique. Your soul is a pure and powerful energy. Your life as you know it, is a unique existence that has never existed before and will never exist again. You are a miracle.
I asked you up there how much you love yourself. It seems rude not to offer my own answer…
In this moment, as I’m sitting cross-legged on the ottoman in my PJs, feeling peaceful and in-touch with me, sipping coffee and thinking about the thoughts I just wrote, ESPECIALLY #8… I’d say I’m at a solid 7.888885.
I’ve still got work to do, and decades of conditioning to review. It’s a big challenge to peek inside our minds, question our lives and beliefs that were given to us by the people in charge. It’s hard to think independently. It’s hard to recognize the habitual thoughts and behaviors we came to assume we’re right because they’re what we were taught and have always done. But life is a journey.
Learning to love ourselves may be a lifetime of work. But the greatest thing we can ever undertake. My biggest joy came from the realization that not only do I deserve love, but I am love.