I thought self-love was glorified wishful thinking that would render me unmotivated and self-obsessed, but I was mistaken.
Self-love may sound familiar from the wave of self-led practices you’ve read about: self-care, self-talk, self-compassion. They’re all related and part of an approach that I avoided at first because I was skeptical. Where’s the research? Is this a proven practice? But the other half of me, the more hopeful side, wanted to believe that there are accessible methods for being kinder to ourselves.
My turning point arrived when I read work from Kristin Neff, Ph.D. In her article, “The Five Myths of Self-Compassion” she tackles the very misconceptions (like my fears of wallowing in self-pity or losing my “drive”) that initially kept me away from self-compassionate practices. Her work helped me to see that I was actually running on fear-based perfectionism and self-judgement… motivators, yes, but not the best. So, I thought, could it be that ridiculous to give self-love a try instead?
I have compassion for myself, as I do for others
One of the first steps I took toward a life of self-love was through a self-compassion visualization (and my skeptical side twitched at the prospect of it). My assignment, geared toward treating my perfectionism, involved the f-word: failure. The next time I experienced a sense of failure in my life, a missed goal for example, I was to visualize a loved one or best friend. With that loved one in mind, I was supposed to think about what I would say to that person in the same situation. How would I empathize with her, encourage her and remind her of her value? How would I tell her to forgive herself? How would I coach her to look toward constructive next steps?
The exercise was meant to demonstrate my willingness to be compassionate to others, and relatedly, how difficult it was to share that same kindness with myself.
I am extremely fortunate to have a network of friends and family who show me compassion, so I hadn’t really worked on cultivating it for myself. The love of those close to us is precious and irreplaceable, but I’ve learned that we still have to develop self-love to temper the troublesome inner critic — those negative thoughts no one else hears. So when I first started working on my self-love, the positive self-talk felt silly and awkward, and the practical self-empathy seemed unnecessary (only because I’d survived without it for so long). But the longer I did it, the more I realized I wasn’t just surviving anymore. I was able live more comfortably in my skin, in the present, and my fears and worries started to lose their power.
I love myself as I am, today
Investing in self-love is a daily challenge — because like everyone else, I am not my most patient or loveable self every day. But that’s a big component of self-love: Loving yourself as you are right now, not as you wish to be. I’ve realized that those difficult days, when I wasn’t my “best,” used to be the ones when I most denied myself compassion (because I didn’t think I needed or deserved it), when a little bit of self-love could have turned the whole day around!
Now I know that the challenge of strengthening my self-love is an ongoing experiment in self-compassion. I’m loving myself when I identify barriers to self-love (like the illusion of perfection). I’m loving myself when I set goals to overcome those barriers. And I’m loving myself when I fall short of the goal, forgive myself and value the process, making a plan to get back on the track I desire. Loving myself, just as I am. Until more and more, the fearful thoughts that crowded my head are replaced with a helpful and loving narrative.
Reflect and repeat
Cultivating self-love is easier said than done, and it takes time to learn to love yourself as you are. The work of recognizing the mental/emotional barriers that prevent self-love (and overcoming them) is a valuable and lifelong investment in yourself, so remember to be patient. As a starting point, you might begin where I did: Practice meditating upon yourself with that same generous, empathetic and forgiving feeling you know so well and give to your loved ones.
Think about this: When you visualize those special people, why do you feel such love and forgiveness for them? To you, are they treasured, good or deserving of love? Well, so are you! So, when you visualize them, start mixing in visions of yourself. Get used to thinking of yourself positively, transferring that generous love to yourself like a warm light that spills over every inch of your body.
What if I’m not into visualizations?
No problem! If meditating isn’t your bag, here’s a collection of free online resources, including TED Talks, exercises and articles — all gathered to aid your self-love journey. There are many paths toward self-love, so whether you are action-oriented or more emotionally driven, there are resources to help you learn more about self-love and practice it on a daily basis.
TED Talk Playlist: The Logic of Loving Yourself
Podcast – The Science of Happiness: Episode 2: Quieting Your Inner Critic
Dr. Kristin Neff – self-compassion.org: Self-Compassion Exercises
Greater Good in Action: How to Build Self-Compassion
Yoga With Adriene: Self-Love Yoga – Full Class
Yoga Journal: Big Gal Yoga’s Heart-Opening Sequence That Will Make You Love Yourself Again
Thought Catalog: “Read This If You Are Your Own Worst Critic (And You Need to Give Yourself a Break)”
Healthline: “What Are the Benefits of Self-Talk?”
Huffpost: “12 Ways to Help Remove the Barriers to Self-Love”
Psychology Today: “A Seven-Step Prescription for Self-Love”
A Bit of Fun: Self-Love & Pop Culture
The Atlantic: “RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Art of Self-Love”
The Daily Beast: “The Rise of Selfie Pop: Why Songs About Self-Esteem Are All the Rage”
Bustle: “Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’ Embraced Self-Love Before It Was Popular & Changed My Life In The Process”