I never thought I didn’t love myself.
If someone had asked me if I loved myself, I’m confident that my 20-something self would have said, “Yes.” The truth is, in subtle ways I neglected to honor my needs, my voice, my expression, my feelings…my being. This showed up in many ways. I worried about what other people needed and forgot what I needed. “What do you need?” was never a question I asked myself. I’d say “yes” when I really needed to say “no.” I’d allow people to dump their feelings on me in service of being a good listener. When I walked away from the conversation, I felt drained and emotionally beaten up. I avoided sharing my feelings or point of view to keep the peace.
How could you love yourself more?
Does the question, even the phrase self-love, spark the word “selfish” in your mind? Many of us are taught to put others first. This is a beautiful teaching and intention, but sometimes we take that so far that we forget the most important person in our lives is ourselves. When I became burned out from my career, my relationship, and the pace of my life, I knew that it was time to shift my focus from others back towards myself. What I didn’t expect was that this shift would lead me to embark on the most important and challenging path of self-love.
How To Start Loving Yourself
Learning to love yourself is a life path, not a quick fix.
I still sometimes say “yes” when I should say “no.” I can forget to ask myself “what do you need” when I’m trying to resolve a challenge with another person. What’s changed is that now self-love is a top priority in my life, it’s no longer a yucky word that feels “selfish.” With time I have developed a strong foundation of habits and attitudes that easily bring me back to self-love when I fall into old patterns. The tips below can form a foundation for your own self-love. While you won’t experience it in an instant, with regular practice you will start to pave a lasting path to return to when you get lost.
Become familiar with your inner voice.
We all have that inner voice of wisdom deep inside of us. Somewhere between college and adulthood, I lost my connection to my inner voice and had to regain it. I started by thinking less and listening more to myself. This is an important difference. Overthinking blocks you from hearing your inner wisdom. To start listening more, take out a notebook and pen. Reflect on a challenging situation and then ask yourself one of the following questions: “What do I need?”, “What do I feel?”, and “What do I want?”
Write whatever you hear that comes back. Pretend you are in conversation with another person, listening. Write exactly what you hear. Do not analyze it, just trust everything and write it all down. If writing isn’t your thing, audio record yourself with your phone or computer. Make this a weekly practice to start “tuning in” to your inner voice.
Do more of what your gut says.
For one whole day, only do what you feel moved to do. For example, take a nap when you feel like you need one. Feel like grabbing dinner with a friend and seeing a movie? Make reservations and buy your tickets. Feel like you want to jump in rain puddles? Jump away. Only do what you feel like doing for one whole entire day and then commit to doing more of what you feel. A common obstacle to self-love is over-regulation of our desires in service of a long list of “shoulds” in our mind.
This can cut us off from fun, play, and lightness in our life as we put goals, achievements, and other people’s desires over our own. When done mindfully, this practice can start to honor your needs in small ways. When we honor our own needs, we feel more content and ultimately, more loved.
Practice free expression.
Find any way to start expressing yourself more openly. I find that free expression is one of the greatest blocks to self-love. Whether it is dancing, painting, craft-making, writing, or building, give yourself permission to express what you want. Commit to free expression without judgement. For example, if you choose to paint, do it for the pure joy of expressing what you are inspired to paint and leave out questions about whether it is “good.” Ready to share more vulnerably with a friend? Leave your fearful filtering system behind. Practice free expression without judgement, analysis, or a need to understand. Free expression creates a safe sacred space to truly honor yourself.
Love yourself like you love others.
What if you gave the amount of care, respect, and dignity you give to someone you love to yourself? Don’t you deserve that kind of love? One way you can do this is by flipping the script. Ask yourself what you would want for your partner, best friend, or loved one when you’re facing a decision, taking a day off from work, or preparing for a meeting. What would you hope for them in both important and ordinary moments? What advice would you give them?
Take these hopes and advice and flip them for yourself. Would you tell your best friend to take a mental health day and go for a hike? Get your shoes ready! Would you tell your partner to advocate for the salary increase they deserve? Prepare your pitch and get ready to grow!
Treat yourself with tenderness.
Every time your inner critic comes out, be gentle with it. Imagine your inner critic voice as the seven-year-old part of yourself that feels scared, wants to be seen, and matter. When our inner critic comes up through judgement, “should stories,” and self-blame, we are struggling to feel loved and struggling to know we are loveable in that moment.
I like to imagine a young version of myself delivering the message of my inner critic when this happens. When I see the young girl in my critic’s voice, I soften inside, see clearly, and forgive myself, knowing I simply want to be reconnected to love in that moment. Treat your inner critic like a parent would treat their only child. Love it, forgive it, and understand why it is scared. This sparks self-compassion and opens you up to feeling self-love.