Loving oneself is such an obvious and cliché recommendation for those of us in the field of psychology. Everyone says, “Having a love for oneself is the ticket to every piece of joy and contentment.” Yes, a wonderful sentiment. Except that for many of us, the largest challenge and, at times, seemingly insurmountable.
My clients ask, “What is self-love?” “When does self-love become selfish?” “How does one love even the disappointing parts of oneself?” “What does love for oneself actually look like?” These are valid questions. They all mean one thing to me. Many of us do not know how to love ourselves.
Some of us have been
- taught that loving oneself is not allowed by our family of origin, our community, or our culture
- told that if we can’t figure out a way to love ourselves, it is our fault for feeling miserable
- conditioned to love others more than ourselves
When I am teaching someone how to generate love for themselves, I encourage them to start with something small and specific. Your favorite quality about yourself? What do you like about yourself? What are you the best at? In this process, we must start with the positive aspects of our relationship rather than the areas we would like to grow in.
Once you generate a short list of benefits for yourself, you can grow and develop them. We want to pivot toward living in those positive places rather than living away from the negative spots. I encourage more of the activities we are competent and confident in and develop the edges of our fun and joyful experiences. Then, when it’s time, expand your skillset where you are interested and passionate.
The only way this works is for us to take a step back and reflect on who we are, honestly, with vulnerability and integrity. How have we done with creating a relationship with ourselves? Do we know ourselves? Can we trust ourselves? Can we believe in ourselves? Those are the pieces of integrity that build a relationship.
As we develop further and further into loving ourselves, the next step is to share. We only truly know the parts of ourselves that we allow others to see. We can only accept and honor (love) the self if we are known by others.
Self-love is not about always looking pretty, doing right, being successful, or exercising. Self-love is about honoring the vulnerabilities and tender spots that are not fully developing, holding them close, cherishing ourselves so that we can develop self-trust and grow.
- Start specific and small when attempting to begin the process of building a self-loving relationship.
- Do more of what you like, what you are good at, what brings you joy. Crowd out the bad with the good.
- In periodic reflection, talk openly and honestly with our self about who we are, how we are doing, where we are going.
- We must share our actual selves with those that can and will love us so that we are known.
- This is not an equation that is simple or obvious, this is deep and meaningful work that will pay off dividends in the end with a relationship that will never leave us.