Self-compassion or self-love can feel uncomfortable, but you can learn to love yourself with this simple approach.
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How do you love yourself?
When I ask people how they practice self-love, I get a lot of blank stares and “I don’t know”s. It’s as if I suggested they climb Mount Everest this weekend!
Self-love can feel like an impossible task, but it’s actually quite simple. Not necessarily easy – but simple.
Self-love is similar to self-compassion, self-kindness, and self-care. And for our purposes, we can use these terms interchangeably.
The struggle to love yourself
I believe that the vast majority of people intuitively know how to love themselves. The problem is that we’ve been socialized to believe that 1) it’s wrong, selfish, or conceited and 2) we’re not worthy of love – even from ourselves. We believe that if others hurt us or don’t seem to love us, we’re unlovable.
And as a result, we don’t treat ourselves with love and respect. We may actively do things to harm ourselves, whether it’s drinking too much, restricting our food, or being self-critical.
And because we’re used to being mean to ourselves, we lose track of what we need, what would feel loving. And self-compassion feels strange. We’re not used to it, so it’s uncomfortable and takes a lot of effort.
If you know how to love others, you know how to love yourself
But even if self-love is uncomfortable or brings up feelings of guilt, I suspect that you know how to love yourself – and with practice, you’ll be able to treat yourself with love and kindness more consistently and easily.
Do you know how to love and care for others? Almost everyone knows how to express love to others through actions and words. And the good news is that loving yourself uses the same skills as loving others. So, if you can love others, you can love yourself. As I said, it’s going to take some intention, effort, and practice, but you already have the skills you need.
Take a moment and think about how you love others. You might say something encouraging, give a compliment, make their favorite meal, do a chore to ease their load, buy a small gift that you think they’ll enjoy, or text a funny meme. There are so many ways to show someone you care!
You may be so well-practiced at caring for your friends and family that it comes naturally; you don’t even realize that you’re sifting through lots of information to choose how you will love another. But you probably consider the other person’s needs and preferences (Does Maria need quiet time to rest or help with chores? How does Maria like to be loved? Does she prefer spending quality time together or when I bring home her favorite pastries?). And you consider your resources (how much time, money, energy, and creativity do you have?). And then you use that information to choose a loving action.
How to start loving yourself
Now, try using the same approach to identify ways to love yourself.
Ask yourself these questions.
1) What do I need right now? (Examples: comfort, encouragement, food, rest, quiet, fun, connection, affirmation)
2) How do I like to be loved? (Gary Chapman’s popular book The Five Love Languages* identifies words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, physical touch, and quality time. This can be a helpful framework, but feel free to identify any actions or words that feel good to you.)
3) How much time, money, energy, and creativity do I have?
It is also helpful to identify a few quick and easy go-to actions. These are things you can do almost anytime and anyplace that will reliably feel loving.
My list includes treating myself to a latte, taking a 10-minute break, giving myself a neck massage, and complimenting myself. Now it’s your turn. Identify a few loving actions that you can do regularly.
Practice makes it easier
As you know, practicing new behaviors will make them easier. I encourage you to make a specific commitment to practice self-love.
You might start by committing to doing one kind thing for yourself daily. And then after a week or two, increase to two self-loving actions per day. I know you can do it because you already know how to love others!
Self-love doesn’t have to be earned
Don’t get hung up on whether you deserve to treat yourself lovingly. Instead, try to accept that everyone deserves love and it doesn’t have to be earned.
While it’s normal to feel more or less loving towards others at different times, you probably don’t keep a scorecard to determine if your children or spouse have earned words of affirmation or a hug today.
Try the same approach with yourself. Don’t keep track. Don’t question whether you’ve earned self-compassion or deserve love. And, ironically, treating yourself with kindness will probably make you feel more positively about yourself.
©2021 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photos from Canva.com.
*Note: The 5 Love Languages references some Christian beliefs.
Resources for purchase
The Self-Love Guided Journal
I created the Self-Love Guided Journal to help you rediscover who you are, accept yourself – imperfections and all, and learn to treat yourself with kindness. It includes reflective questions, journal prompts, inspirational quotes, and a healing meditation to help you develop positive thoughts and feelings about yourself. Find out more by clicking HERE.