"Look at what you bring to the world, not what you lack." - Miranda Kate

Monday, 5 March 2018

Self-Love: How to Love Yourself & Why You Should

Image of a pink lily flower fully open on lily pads with text: look at what you bring to the world, not at what you lackDo you know whether you like yourself or not? Have you ever asked yourself?

Are you kind to yourself when things go wrong or do you scold yourself?

Do people tell you, you’re hard on yourself?

“Love yourself first because that's who you'll be spending the rest of your life with.”– Paulo Coelho

There is a lot in personal development and self help about loving yourself and being self-approved (the first one tends to lead to the second). It is a fundamental building block in finding your own sense of authenticity or ‘being authentic’ – meaning taking off the public mask and not being afraid to show others who you really are, and relaxing around people. 

You may have heard the term ‘Self Care’ recently. It is the new buzz word for loving yourself. It means to take time out for yourself: buy yourself something special, spend time with yourself in solitude or in meditation, walking in nature, or doing something you want to do that you would normally consider too extravagant or time consuming.

Some people think that ‘self-care’ or ‘self-love’ or ‘believing in yourself’ is selfish, that you are only thinking of yourself and your own happiness. But you are the most important person in your life – even as a parent your children are dependent on your health and happiness, and your ability to function on a daily basis.

“Loving yourself isn’t vanity, it’s sanity.” – Andre Gide

When I began the journey to start loving myself, it was to try and achieve a sense of calm about everything in my life. I was defensive, sensitive and reacted to people, usually with unsuccessful outcomes. I was angry and frustrated, and I needed to find a way to change that. I realised that I hadn’t spent much time with myself - in fact initially I had been scared to spend time with myself. I would do anything to avoid being on my own. I would liken it to loneliness. Spending time alone meant emptiness and sadness to me. It meant spending time with my feelings, which I was trying to avoid. As a child I hadn’t been allowed to express my feelings or have feelings, so I had no idea how to deal with them.

It was only when I went travelling on my own for a year that I started to understand myself better. On a daily basis I met new people and I would listen to what I talked about and what I told them, and notice how I reacted to them. I started to hear my own story and notice my reactions and behaviours. I started to know myself and see parts of myself I liked, and by the end of my trip I discovered I enjoyed my own company, and was fine spending time in solitude.  

“Stop hating yourself for everything you're not. Start loving yourself for everything you are.” – unknown

But not everyone can go travelling to ‘find themselves’, so how do you go about loving yourself while living your day to day life?

Step one: Listen to yourself: your feelings, your thoughts, your response to things externally. Don’t concentrate on any specific one, just listen to all of it, without judgement, without any expectation. During this process you will start to understand your own thoughts and opinions about things.

Step two: Trust your feelings: Trust how you feel about things: from what you might want to eat in the morning, to the state of the world. Some feelings might feel bad, or ‘wrong’, but they are your feelings, so hear them out. Believe them, rather than argue with them. Reason with them or sympathise with them. Find a place that you can start feeling comfortable about them. Don’t cover them up; be honest with yourself about how you feel. If you think you have to change how you feel to suit others, ask yourself why? Are you putting their feelings before your own? Why are you compromising yourself for another? Know the reasons why you think and feel the way you do, but don’t justify them. You don’t need to justify yourself to anyone. 

Step three: Set Personal Boundaries: Boundaries are to stop you compromising too much of yourself to suit others. Decide how you want to be treated: what you are okay with and what you are not okay with. Define where your limits are. Not being true to yourself will disrupt your sense of self. If you change your mind to suit another, or do something you are not really happy or comfortable with, you are compromising yourself – your feelings, your truth - and that can leave you feeling bad about yourself, resulting in guilt, regret, even resent and anger. By setting personal boundaries and trusting your own feelings and thoughts, and being clear about what you do and don’t want, you can achieve your own sense of inner security. If you are sure about who you are, it doesn’t matter what others externally say or do.  

“Listen to your own voice, your own soul. Too many people listen to the noise of the world, instead of themselves.” – Leon Brown

There are a great deal of articles and books on this topic. A book I have found helpful is Mirror Work by Louise Hay. In this book, you are guided through exercises where you look at yourself in a mirror and talk to yourself – to your inner child (the part of you inside that was once a child). It helps you uncover previous painful events and helps you release that pain and learn to appreciate who you are in the present moment. It teaches you how to be comfortable with yourself.

This book also highlights how you talk to yourself. Many of us might be kind to others, but we aren’t very pleasant to ourselves. When we start listening to what we are saying to ourselves, often we will find a negative stream of dialogue: berating ourselves over things from the past, present and even future scenarios, or constant criticism over how we look, feel or present ourselves.

If you hear yourself doing this, ask yourself: “If someone externally was saying these things to me, how would I feel?” Would you be upset, offended, even angry? If so then ask yourself: “Why am I saying these things to myself? Why am I not standing up for myself? Why am I not being a friend to myself?”

To practice self-love, let that voice speak, but don’t engage with it - know that it is not the truth. Not every thought you have in your head is true or real. And a lot of the noise in our heads is put there by other people: family, school friends, work colleagues. It is their perception of us, which is a reflection of themselves: their own thoughts and feelings. It is not who you are, and by listening and learning who you are, you can be sure of that.

“Be careful how you are talking to yourself, because you are listening.” – Lisa M Hayes

Compassion and empathy are feelings that we express when we care about someone deeply, and we want the best for them. They allow us to be non-judgemental and support people in being who they are and appreciating them. By listening to and trusting our feelings we are showing compassion and empathy for ourselves. We can then appreciate all the positive things about who we are and what we can bring to the world.

Self-love is something that can take years to build, but once you achieve it, you have a foundation of inner security: of trusting who you are and being sure of yourself. No longer questioning the things you do or feeling bad about them. It’s not easy, it takes courage to stand up and be honest about who you are, but you find that you start caring less about what others think and say about you. You realise that only what you think matters - because it is the only thing that impacts you.

“If you are not good at loving yourself, you will have a difficult time loving anyone, since you will resent the time and energy you give another person that you aren’t even giving to yourself.”- Barbara De Angelis

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