One of the most common questions I hear from clients is this: EVERYONE KEEPS TELLING ME TO “LOVE MYSELF” BUT WHAT DOES THAT LOOK LIKE AND HOW DO I DO IT? I’ll begin with my favourite quote on self-love, which comes from Lucille Ball: Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world. I couldn’t agree more with her on this one. However, her quote doesn’t offer any clues about how to love oneself in the first place. I’m not going to pretend that there is some quick and easy answer to this daunting question, but I have put a lot of time, thought, and study into this particular quandry so I’ll offer up some of what I’ve learned here…
Esther’s 3 Practical Ways to Increase Self-Love
#1: Realise the Incredible Benefits of Self-Love
There are a multitude of excellent reasons to extend compassion and love towards ourselves as well as others. In a nutshell, I’ve learned that everything we are trying to achieve becomes a whole lot easier and less stressful when we are kind towards ourselves, rather than harsh and critical. Here are some benefits of self-love outlined in a lovely article on one of my favourite websites, Mind Body Green:
We let go of blame, shame, and anger. We invite ownership, creation, and power into our lives.
The more we look at ourselves with love, the more we practice love and acceptance toward others.
We allow ourselves to be human. We accept mistakes and failures, and we invite vulnerability into our lives.
We let go of competition and comparing ourselves to others.
We find courage to accept failure because we know that it is one step closer to growth, and our significance isn’t dependent on what we produce.
#2: Extend Compassion Towards Yourself
I’ve written before about practising self-compassion and how to go about it. There’s also an amazing book written on the topic I highly recommend you read. I will share a story with you about how I helped a client learn to extend compassion towards herself which you may find useful.
I was sitting with a lovely client who has a terrible habit of beating herself up emotionally. I’m guessing you can relate to this…I sure can! It appeared that she was trying to convince me (or herself?) that she was basically a “hopeless case” and not worthy of living a rich, juicy and fulfilling life because she had an eating disorder which has plagued her for the last ten years. She would probably make a great lawyer, as she is incredibly adept at making a case. The only problem in my opinion is that her case is against HERSELF. And if anything is going to interfere with one’s capacity to experience self-love, freedom, and living a fantastic life, I’d say, hands-down, it’s when you beat yourself up emotionally, regularly and consistently. And let me tell you, this beautiful young woman is not the only one guilty of this.
Unfortunately, I sit with countless women, either face-to-face, on the phone, or via video-conferencing who tell me exactly why they don’t deserve a crack at happiness. The reasons given could be one or all of the following: -Any one or more of these conditions: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addictions, ADHD, etc. -Past history of abuse -A history of bad choices -Not being where they are “supposed to be” at this point in their life And more… So as I sat listening to this woman berate herself mercilessly, something came to me. As she finished each reason for hating herself and not deserving a great life, I finished her sentence with, “And yet, I still love myself”.
At first, she looked really annoyed that I was interrupting her, but as I continued playfully ending her sentences, a smile broke out on her lips and she started to laugh. We laughed and enjoyed the fun dance we were doing together. After a while, she stopped talking and looked me squarely in the eyes and said, “That is really helpful. I suppose if I can have all these problems and still love myself despite them, I wouldn’t be so upset at myself all the time PLUS have all of these problems”.
Very wise words indeed. Isn’t it bad enough that we have these problems to begin with? Why do we have to add insult to injury by beating ourselves up emotionally as well? When are we going to give ourselves a break by saying to ourselves when we falter, “And yet, I still love myself”… Give it a try and see what happens.
#3: Change Your Self-Talk
For the final suggestion on how to love yourself more, I can’t stress enough the importance of how you talk to yourself. In a previous article, I mentioned that research has found that we practise self-talk for FOUR HOURS every day, so be mindful of how you use those four hours! I would hazard a guess that the majority of us are incredibly cruel to ourselves during this big chunk of the day, during which time the harsh inner critic comes out and berates us constantly for not being _____ enough. This blank space is often one of a long list. Here are the most common ones I hear from clients:
You can probably add one or two of your own variations to the list. However, I think it would be far more productive to start switching the negatives to positives when you catch yourself being mean to yourself. For example, if you found yourself thinking this after a coffee date with a new girlfriend:
I blew it…I was so boring during coffee. She even yawned! She won’t ask to get together again because I’m not exciting enough. She’s so interesting and exciting and a great storyteller. Why would someone like that want to be friends with me? In this example, this woman is being hard on herself and calling herself berating things such as “boring” and “not exciting enough”.
Not only that, but she causes herself further misery by comparing herself to her girlfriend, who, in her mind, is the complete opposite (implying that being “interesting, exciting and a great storyteller” is the better way to be). At this juncture, I feel the need to point out that in these types of negative self-talk scenarios (what I refer to as “stinking thinking”), we are almost always WRONG if we summon up the courage to actually check it out with the other person at a later date.
I encourage you to try this for yourself just to see how inaccurate and mean you really are to yourself. The good news is this: MOST PEOPLE ARE MUCH MORE FORGIVING AND KIND TOWARDS US THAN WE ARE TO OURSELVES. This is especially true of our close friends and loved ones. And if it’s not, I strongly urge you to reevaluate who you choose to spend time with on a regular basis. In all likelihood, the other woman in the example above was probably doing her own negative and self-critical analysis of the same coffee date.
Here is what she might have thought after that meeting: I blew it. I just talked about myself yet again and dominated the conversation and didn’t give her space to talk about herself. I’m such a narcissist! Why can’t I listen quietly like she does? She’s so calming to be around. She must have thought I was a nutbar…
I have braved these ‘check in’ conversations with various friends and family members over the years to get a handle on how far off the mark I actually was in my interactions, and without getting into the embarrassing details, I will suffice it to say that I have a track record so far of being 100% wrong about my assumptions about how I came across as well as how others perceived me. In every single case, the other person was completely shocked at how I spoke to myself and the negative things I assumed they thought of me. Humbling indeed but great information which has helped me to practise being kinder to myself and more realistic in future interactions.
Here is an example of what the first woman could have said to herself when her harsh inner critic came out and blasted her for ‘blowing it’ with her new friend: I really enjoyed spending time with her, even if I mostly listened. I love that she’s an extrovert and I’m an introvert. We can teach each other so much. By listening closely, I learned about some exciting trips she has taken and it inspired me to take one or two myself.
The other woman could have helped herself feel better by saying this after she berated herself: That was really nice. I like her. She seemed to enjoy my travel adventure stories. I look forward to getting to know her better in the future.
Do you have a story to share with my readers about how you learned to love yourself? If so, I’m sure they want to hear it! Feel free to send it to me via email at: estherATestherkane.com and I may share it with them in an upcoming newsletter and you will remain anonymous.