If I were to ask you to tell me everything that's wrong with you, I bet you'd have no problem reeling off a long list of your flaws and failures.
Even as I was typing that sentence, my brain quickly latched on to my own flaws and failures. It's almost automatic.
Why is it so hard to love yourself?
It seems we keep an “I'm a loser list” handy in our minds ready to pull out at a moment's notice when we wish to take a self-flagellation break. (I'm conjuring images of shirtless monks walking in a circle whipping their own backs.)
But don't you think that's just crazy? I mean really it's beyond crazy — it's kind of warped. We say things to ourselves we would never say to those around us, even those we don't like. We berate ourselves in ways we'd never consider berating anyone else. We hang on to our failures for years, sometimes for a lifetime, and replay them over and over. Life becomes a constant struggle.
And of course, the more we do this, the more we focus on all that's wrong with us, the more real and debilitating these flaws become. They start to define us. They hold us back from becoming who we want to be. They impact our relationships. They impact our self-esteem, our mood, and our overall outlook on life.
It makes me sad to think about all the people in the world who don't even like themselves, much less love themselves. Maybe you are one of them. I hope not. But the odds are that some of you reading this would like to trade yourself in for a better model. Or at least trade in parts of yourself.
Maybe you . . .
- don't like the way you look;
- don't like your personality;
- don't like your lack of (fill in the blank here — intelligence, creativity, motivation);
- don't like your life choices;
- don't like the way you are in relationships.
Quite often we don't like ourselves because of our perceived inability to follow through, achieve goals, earn enough money, or reach a certain level of success. Much of our self-loathing comes from looking at what others have and viewing ourselves as inadequate because we don't have it.
I could go on and on about the reasons we don't love ourselves. Our tortured childhoods. Our devastating relationships. The lack of opportunities or luck. The less-than-perfect body or face we've been given. Life is a constant struggle. These things all may be true. They may feel painfully real. They may legitimately hold you back in some regards.
But they don't matter.
When the rubber meets the road, there is only one person who will be with you for a lifetime.
- There is only one person whose good opinion really matters.
- There is only one person whose love can transform you.
- There is only one person who deserves your unconditional love most of all.
Regardless of all of your perceived flaws and failure, you are the only you you have. Now you could wait to love this you until you reach some level of perceived accomplishment, beauty, or perfection.
But as you've probably learned, it's damned near impossible to become a better person when you don't love the person you are. When you can't see or embrace your inherent value, beauty, and uniqueness, you don't have much to offer yourself in the way of energy or motivation for continuous self-improvement.
Here's an insight I've embraced in recent years: life isn't about achieving some outward standard of success, achievement, or physical perfection. It is about becoming more and more of who YOU are. It is about continual self-evolution and authenticity. It is about diving into the depths of your unique self and coming up with treasure after treasure that was previously unknown to you. You are a veritable sunken Titantic of mysteries to be explored.
That's how you begin to love yourself — by making that mental shift. You shift from being a victim to a creator. You are the treasure, with layers upon layers of uncharted and undiscovered potential. What you hate about yourself on the surface is just the rotten crumbs of who you really are and who you can become.
Whether you are fat or thin, rich or poor, beautiful or plain, successful or struggling, young or old — none of that really matters. When you can scratch past the crusty surface of those things, you can find endless pools of crystal clear love for yourself. And when you find those pools and dive into them, you will find that surface things begin to change naturally as a result. Self-love requires us to become our best selves in all regards.
I know this all sounds lovely and inspiring, but I also know this is the real world with real pain and problems. And in the real world, loving yourself doesn't happen overnight. It takes time to embrace the notion that loving yourself is your highest calling, your most important work, the most life-changing thing you can ever do for yourself.
So how to begin? Here are some thoughts . . .
Acknowledge the life-altering importance of loving yourself. Recognize that everything good in your life hinges on seeing your own unique beauty and worthiness. Accept that all of your life successes, all love and acceptance, all happiness, begins with embracing and loving who you are right now.
On a daily basis, refocus your attention away from flaws and failures and on your uniqueness and positive qualities. Define those for yourself, even the smallest positive aspects you see in yourself, and write them down. Review them every single day. Remember that these qualities are as much or more a part of you than your flaws.
As you work to accept yourself as you are, you can also define the best version of yourself that isn't yet fully expressed. This ideal self should be based on who YOU are authentically, not crafted from the influences of peers, parents, the media, or anyone else. Who is your best self? How do you want to look, feel, think, act, and operate in the world? Write a “character study” of this yet-to-be-expressed self.
Carefully choose your friends and associates so you surround yourself with loving, real, caring, and supportive people. These are people who reflect back to you the beautiful qualities they see in you. Open your eyes to be able to see yourself as they see you and to accept the validity of their assessment.
Envision yourself as your own best friend. Begin to see your higher self as the best friend taking charge and talking to your wounded self. As your higher self, think or speak only the words that you would say to your best friend in times of crisis or self-doubt. Use words of approval, support, reinforcement, and praise. Don't let your wounded self be the spokesperson for your psyche.
Set aside time to learn more about yourself — your personality, aptitudes, interests, etc. Take assessments, workshops, courses, read books and blogs. See yourself as an interesting multifaceted package to open and explore. Go beyond how you look, what you've achieved, how much money you have, etc. Find out what moves you, what brings you deepest joy, what true intimacy feels like. Find pockets of creativity, areas of untapped intelligence, pathways to potential passions.
Accept what you cannot change about yourself. Everyone has parts of themselves they can't “fix” or alter — aspects of our appearance, personalities, our past experiences or choices. There are only two options here. You can forever struggle against those unchangeable things, or you can grow beyond them and choose the path of self-acceptance. Having these unchangeable things doesn't have to condemn us to a lifetime of unhappiness. The opportunities for happiness in life are so vast — our flaws are infinitesimal inky droplets in a sea of potential for joyful living. They will dissolve and dissipate if you don't focus on them.
If there are things you can change and want to change about yourself to become more of your ideal self, then embrace the privilege and glorious opportunity to effect change. Define the actions that change requires. Break the actions down into small and manageable goals. Every day, give yourself one small goal as a gift. It is a gift your higher self is offering from love and the desire to move you closer to your ideal.
Learning to love yourself requires patience. If you've spent years disliking or even hating yourself, it will take time to turn the ship around and forge a new direction. You will likely have times of slipping back into old beliefs and negative self-talk. But remember, if you see how the entirety of your life experience hinges on self-love, you will be tenacious and determined to love yourself.
Just as it takes practice to maintain a healthy and loving relationship with your spouse or child, it takes the same practice to maintain your love for yourself. You must remain actively mindful of it every day. Maintain your focus on your unique and beautiful qualities. Continue to make small and purposeful steps toward who you really are. Acknowledge and celebrate those steps. Reflect gratefully on all that you have and all that you are in process of becoming.
Are you able to love yourself? How have you had difficulty with this in the past and what have you done to foster self-love? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
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