We’ll often hear someone say that we just need to love ourselves, but how exactly do you do that? What is self-love, and how can we explore and develop it?
We’ll often hear someone say that we just need to love ourselves, but how exactly do you do that? It’s not as easy as simply flipping a switch. It’s not as if someone says, love yourself, and all of a sudden everything shifts and you suddenly feel amazing. And I’m not going to promise you that by the end of this article everything’s going to be different, that you’re all of a sudden going to love yourself in a way that you’ll never feel unhappy again. It may take some time. But I hope to offer some insight into that can help you along that process.
The thing about love that often gets overlooked is that it really has a lot to do with acceptance. So I would say, initially, forget about trying to love yourself, and simply shift your intention to accepting yourself.
Acceptance means seeing ourselves fully, with all of our various flaws and imperfections, our weaknesses, our inadequacies, all of our negative qualities. And merely acknowledging them without judgment, without condemnation. Acceptance means that there’s no judgment. If you’re having trouble loving yourself, then you’re already aware of your imperfections. What I’m suggesting here is that you don’t try to change any of those qualities. Just get rid of the negative opinion you have about yourself in regard to those qualities. Get rid of that judgment.
So you’ve got some flaws. You’ve got some negative qualities about you. There are areas where you’re not very competent, you’re unskilled in some ways. Whatever it is, we tend to judge ourselves harshly on these things. But why? It would seem that we hold ourselves to a very high standard. That standard is perfection. And the more we seem to fail at meeting that standard, the more harshly we judge ourselves. But the truth is that the kind of perfection we’re holding ourselves to doesn’t exist. Even if we’re comparing ourselves to others, we do so not realizing the various imperfections they have. Maybe we just not notice them. Or maybe some people are very skilled at hiding them. But the truth is that no one is perfect, not in that sense anyway.
So we need to begin by understanding that we all have flaws and imperfections. And we need to accept that. Acceptance means we’re not judging. We’re just noticing. We see the imperfections, but we’re not trying to resist them. We’re simply allowing them to be there. We can resist them or we can accept them, but either way those flaws are there. So why not just accept them? How long have you been resistant to your imperfections? How long have you condemned yourself because of them? And in all that time, has your judgment ever fixed anything? What happens is that those imperfections remain, and all we’ve done is attached a negative feeling on top of them. So condemning ourselves doesn’t work. And so we need to shift from condemnation to acceptance.
Secondly we need to stop comparing ourselves to others. Often the judgments we have about ourselves are in relation to the judgments we have about others. We judge others as being perfect, or at least being better in some ways, when the truth is that no one is perfect. And while some people may be better at some things, there are also areas in which they struggle. As I said before, we might not see their imperfections, but believe me, they’re there. Really we need to get rid of judgment altogether, by simply recognizing that everyone has flaws and imperfections, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Where did we get the idea that there’s anything wrong with not being absolutely perfect? No one’s perfect. Some people might seem to be really good at certain things. When we see them they seem to have it all together. And maybe what they’re really good at is expressing their best qualities, without letting their imperfections stand in the way. What I mean is that they focus more on what they have to offer than on what they might be lacking, and so their best qualities tend to outshine their imperfections.
So this is something we need to learn as well. While we all have flaws and imperfections, we all have positive qualities as well. We all have areas where we’re skilled at something. We all have virtues that are deeply valuable. But when we’re focused too much on the imperfections, we tend to overlook these things. At the same time, those who seem to excel in certain areas, do so because they’re focused more on those positive qualities. And again, it’s not about pretending we don’t have flaws. We still recognize that, but without the judgment. Just recognizing the imperfections as facts, but without creating opinions about them. And with the same attention we recognize our positive qualities. We all have them, so take time to recognize your own. Recognize how valuable those qualities are, and give your attention to developing them.
The other thing I would say is don’t be dependent upon the opinions of others. A lot of the judgment we have about ourselves is actually other peoples judgments, or at least what we imagine other people might think of us. We build our sense of worth on what others think of us. But the truth is that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It really only matters what we think.
If everyone around you thinks you’re a terrible person, for example, how do you know they’re right? How do you know they’re not just terrible people, and that’s why they have such a low opinion of you? When we judge others it’s because we have a negative judgment about ourselves. We’re trying to deflect from our own flaws by focusing on the flaws of others. So don’t give any value to other peoples negative judgments about you. It’s not really about you at all.
We might also have judgments about ourselves relating to whether people like us or whether they love us. We tend to think that if people don’t love us it’s because we’re not lovable. But what we often fail to realize is that many people are simply incapable of loving. In fact, they don’t even love themselves. And that’s the real reason why they don’t love us. So, again, it really has nothing to do with us. It’s really about their own inability to love.
I would also say don’t be dependent upon other people’s positive opinions about us. We often seek validation from others in the form of compliments. But again, this means we’re depending on others to define us, to provide us with a sense of value, and if we’re dependent upon others to provide that then there’s going to be times when we’ll be disappointed. In addition, there will be times when it doesn’t matter how much praise we receive, because if we don’t recognize the value in ourselves, we wont accept it from others either. So again, all that really matters is what we think of ourselves, independent of anyone else’s opinion.
So again, we need to be able to accept ourselves fully as we are, in this moment, with all of our flaws and imperfections, without judgment and condemnation. This requires compassion and forgiveness. Compassion and forgiveness don’t require us to be flawless. Forgiveness, for example, simply means we recognize something we may have done wrong, a mistake, an act of selfishness or whatever it may be, but we don’t judge ourselves for it. We can have some judgment about the act. We can recognize that what we did was unkind. But forgiveness means that we also recognize that we’re capable of doing things differently. We see the act as unkind, but we know that we’re capable of kindness. So we give our attention to that instead. And we make the intention to express kindness in the place of our previously unkind behavior. If we can do that, then we don’t need to feel bad about ourselves. Feeling bad about ourselves suggests that we’re bad, that we’re incapable of being good. And when we condemn ourselves like this, it’s very difficult to change our behavior. We go on behaving badly, and feeling terrible about it. So recognize that the behavior isn’t who you are at the core of your being. It doesn’t define you. Know that you’re capable of so much more and then begin to express that.
And lastly, be patient with yourself. These things can take time. There’s a lot to process. And we have to keep reminding ourselves of our value, by recognizing our positive qualities and giving attention to developing and expressing those qualities. We have to keep reminding ourselves that other people’s opinions are just opinions. They aren’t facts. And it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about us. What matters is what we think about ourselves, completely independent of anyone else’s opinion. We have to keep reminding ourselves that, despite our flaws, no one is perfect, but we all have something of value to offer. And we have to keep reminding ourselves that even as we continue to make mistakes, what is most important is that we learn from them, and that each time we do a little better. And we can recognize our growth in these areas as something to feel confident about.
So learning to love yourself is a process. So be patient with that process. Be kind to yourself. Be gentle. Be forgiving. Accept yourself just as you are.