When I was little, I took piano lessons. I loved being able to create music, but I had one fundamental problem that made it impossible for me to enjoy my lessons – I didn’t believe in myself. I actively punished myself when I failed. I repeatedly told myself “I can’t.” The more I practiced, the more frustrated I became. I eventually quit, because I couldn’t convince myself that I was good enough to keep trying.
This is an early example of something that I’ve been dealing with my entire life. I’m not just a perfectionist. I don’t just self-stigmatize. My relationship with myself is toxic and unyielding, frustrating and difficult. I don’t believe in myself. I don’t love myself. I have no patience with myself. And this has impacted every aspect of my life.
I feel like I’m not enough, and that’s the problem.
I often feel like I don’t deserve love – not from others, and definitely not from myself. I would like to write about how beautiful and easy it is to love yourself, but the truth is that it’s extremely difficult for some of us, especially those of us that have experienced self-stigma and trauma.
When you’ve spent years telling yourself that who you are is not enough, it becomes that much harder to unravel those thought patterns. On our good days, we are able to see the benefits of self-love. On our bad days, we fall into the same habits of blaming ourselves for what we lack. Even while writing this, I feel myself falling into the same patterns: telling myself that my work isn’t good enough, that I’m not the right person to talk about this.
But maybe I’m exactly the right person to talk about this, because I know what it’s like to struggle with loving myself, accepting myself, and appreciating myself for who I am.
What is Self-Love?
It’s not just being kind to yourself. I see self-love as a complete perspectival shift – it changes the way we live our lives. We deserve love and care in the same way that we show love and care to our friends and family. You are one of your greatest resources. You are there every day, supporting and uplifting yourself. You deserve recognition and appreciation for that.
Self-love is a complex practice of forgiveness and acceptance. It means showing your body, mind, and soul love. It doesn’t mean that you’ll only have good days from now on, and it doesn’t mean that you will always feel uplifted. It simply means making a commitment to yourself and making an effort to combat self-negativity. Self-love begins with accepting ourselves for who we are, including our flaws and imperfections. It begins with acknowledging that we deserve love – and then gracefully offering it to ourselves.
Making a Change
There is a lot of toxic positivity surrounding this topic, and I’m choosing not to feed into that. Self-love is big business these days; it’s become a buzzword that’s used to sell us more candles, more journals, more inspirational quotes. But self-love is hard, full stop. Self-love takes work, it takes commitment, and it inevitably involves some failure. Self-love is a journey, not a destination – it requires dedicated practice, and it doesn’t happen overnight.
I want to change my relationship with myself. I want to learn how to offer myself forgiveness and patience. So, how do we bridge the gap between self-stigma and self-love? How do we reject the narrative that there is something wrong with us, that we’re not enough, that we don’t deserve love? The first step is always acknowledging that you want to make a change.
Self-Love in Practice
Instead of fixating on the things you dislike about yourself, try listing everything about yourself that you admire. List your strengths and your unique talents, even if it feels silly at first. Every time you find yourself focusing on the negatives, come back to this list.
We all show love in different ways; that’s part of what makes us unique! Maybe you show yourself love through being creative. Maybe you show yourself love through cooking. Spend some time thinking about what makes you feel safe, happy, loved, and special, then build a self-love routine around those activities.
I didn’t know where to start when I began looking for ways to love myself – at first, I thought I had to come up with some in-depth self-care routine. But I soon realized that self-love is whatever I want it to be. I feel loved when I take care of myself. I feel loved when I brush my hair, when I wash my face. So, skincare became a huge part of my self-love practice. I feel loved when I connect with my inner child – so, I started listening to music that reminded me of being young. I feel loved when I read, so I made time in my schedule to read whatever I wanted.
Though I am definitely still a work in progress, I am beginning to introduce some new habits. These are the practices that have helped me start to transform my relationship with myself. Hopefully, with time and patience, these will help you, too.
Setting realistic expectations for self-love will help you on your journey towards having a healthier relationship with yourself. Self-love is a practice – it ebbs and flows. It isn’t a constant state, nor is it static. Some days will be easier than others. Self-love is something that constantly changes and evolves. Accepting those difficult days has helped me love myself better.
You are the only person who can define what self-love looks like for you. It’s a good idea to set specific goals for yourself on your journey. Instead of falling down the self-comparison rabbit hole on social media, maybe set boundaries for yourself when it comes to being online. Set aside time each week to reflect. Your goals should be concrete and achievable, and when you struggle to meet your goals, offer yourself forgiveness and patience.
Know that this is worthwhile
Remind yourself how important it is to learn to love yourself. When you start to lose sight of your goals, gently remind yourself that this is worthwhile – you can and will learn to love yourself well, it just takes time. It is worth it. You deserve to feel safe and embraced by yourself.
Acknowledge the effects of trauma
For those of us that have sustained trauma, self-love can be incredibly difficult. Acknowledge that difficulty. Trauma can often make us feel unworthy and undervalued. Sometimes we have to rewire our brains to erase those narratives. What happened to you is not your fault – you are not responsible for the ways that you have been hurt.
Facts and figures
Stay connected to the facts; our brains often run wild with blame, finding ways to make every situation our fault. Make a concentrated effort to resist that blame. Pay attention to the facts of the situation – are you really at fault? Or is the situation simply out of your control?
Remember that perfection is not a requirement to be loved. You are worthy and valuable without being perfect – in fact, no one is perfect. You deserve love from others and yourself, no matter your imperfections. It’s okay to lower your expectations.
Forgive, forgive, forgive
You will fail. You will have to learn how to pick yourself back up. Forgive yourself when this happens, and acknowledge that failure is the only way forward. We have to fail in order to learn. We all make mistakes – the key is to forgive ourselves and learn from them.
Accept the grief
There is a whole lot of grief that comes with realizing that you haven’t been loving yourself. It’s okay to feel those emotions. We always have the opportunity to change the way we treat ourselves – it’s important that we recognize the grief and accept it.
Be aware of the stories you tell yourself
You might tell yourself that you aren’t good enough in the same way that I told myself, “I can’t.” These are stories that we’re telling ourselves, and the more we tell these stories, the more we believe them. Try to identify what kinds of stories you’re believing about yourself and make an effort to change those narratives.
Body-centered kindness and mindfulness practice
When all else fails, start with your body. Sometimes it’s easier to soothe your body than it is to soothe your mind – breathing exercises, mindfulness, exercise, and nutrition are all helpful ways to love your body. It may take some practice, but body-centered kindness can lead to a better relationship with yourself.
A Step Towards Recovery
The pain of feeling unworthy and unloved is too much for anyone to bear. I know that when I don’t love or care for myself, my mental health symptoms worsen. Cultivating unconditional self-love is a step towards recovery – when we find our worth within ourselves, when we appreciate and accept who we are, we can build a strong foundation for our wellness.
I am learning how to love myself, and I am learning that it is a process. The road to unconditional self-love is frustrating sometimes, but I remind myself that it is worth it. The world opens up when you love yourself.