“Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!” says one of my favourite author-philosophers, Dr. Seuss.
And what a realisation that really is: in all the world, there is only one of you – and being truly, fully, gloriously yourself is what makes you beautiful, inside and out. One of the most important decisions of your life, one that affects every other decision, is the commitment to love and accept yourself. Loving yourself is essential to personal growth, to the fulfilment of your dreams, and to developing healthy, happy relationships with other people.
Yet most of us struggle with self-doubt, self-criticism and self-negativity, resulting in all kinds of dysfunctional thoughts, feelings and behaviours. So what practical steps can you take to get better at loving yourself? It’s actually not all that different from what you would instinctively do to build a relationship with someone else.
Spend time (alone) with yourself
Take some time to get comfortable with who you are, with no other distractions. Switch off your phone, close your laptop, turn off the TV. Go for a walk; meditate; read some poetry; sit quietly in a garden; make, bake or create something. It may feel uncomfortable at first but you’ll soon get used to it, and you’ll treasure the time alone for building up your sense of self.
Acknowledge your emotions
We are more than our emotions, and feelings shouldn’t be the only guidelines to how we choose to live our lives, but they do serve a purpose and need to be acknowledged and respected as well as managed. It can be helpful to write a list of the things that you need and want emotionally, including what matters most to you and what upsets you or makes you feel ignored or violated. Don’t judge your feelings, but be open to what they’re telling you and learn to work with them.
Go easy on yourself
Treat yourself the way you treat your best friend: with kindness, gentleness, compassion and caring. Do this consciously and deliberately, and notice when you’re not doing it. Give yourself a break – perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be! Embrace your imperfections and forgive yourself for less-than-great choices: learn from them and move on, with new understanding, compassion and wisdom.
Speak kindly to yourself
We all have an inner dialogue, the voice in our head, which comments constantly on anything we’re doing, and very often it’s a harsh, critical and condemning voice. Once you’re aware of it, you can question it and you can choose to turn the negative self-talk into positive affirmations that build you up rather than breaking you down.
Look after yourself
Give yourself the message that you’re worth taking care of: look after your body, your time, your space and your finances. Feed yourself well; take some regular exercise and get enough sleep. Taking responsibility for organising your living space, managing your time wisely, and feeling in control of your money are also all ways of taking loving care of yourself.
Choose to be around loving people
Of course there are some circumstances, such as work relationships, when you don’t have a choice, but if you consistently choose to spend time with judgemental, unkind or abusive people you’re telling yourself that you’re not worth loving. You don’t need to waste too much time or energy on toxic relationships – you deserve better.
Be grateful for what you have
Focus on all the good things in your life – even the most ordinary, like just being able to get out of bed in the morning and having a job to go to – and you’ll start feeling freer, lighter and easier. Once gratitude becomes a habit, independent of the ebb and flow of your circumstances, you’ll be more joyful, more peaceful and able to be more loving to yourself and others.
Give the love you would like to receive
It’s a strange thing about love: the more you give, the more you get. When you practice conscious acts of kindness, when you focus on making someone else’s day brighter, when you deliberately bring joy to another person, you feel the benefits a hundred times over in your own life.
Learning to love yourself isn’t a one-time event – it’s a moment-by-moment process, which will inevitably be easier on some days than others. But remember that you’re the best you there is, and embrace your best self with all your heart.