Last week, I wrote about the falsehoods of not being able to love someone else if we don’t love ourselves, and also the nonsense that no one will love us if we don’t love ourselves. In that article, I talked about my belief that it can be harder to love ourselves than it is for us to love someone else. Now I want to explore that a little bit.
Even those of us with pretty good self esteem can find it kind of hard to love ourselves sometimes. Others maybe find it hard to love themselves much at all. In either case, it’s generally true that we are our own worst critics. Usually, we set higher standards for ourselves than anyone else does, and most of the time, we set higher standards for ourselves than we do for others. Especially those among us who have a long history of trying to please others.
There can be a lot of underlying reasons why we find it hard to love ourselves — maybe we grew up being labelled as stupid or lazy or something like that, and we’ve come to believe those labels. But there’s really a fundamental reason why anyone may find it hard to love themselves, even if they don’t hold any damaging beliefs about themselves.
What it comes down to, is that we live in our own heads all the time. We hear every thought, every judgement. All the horrible things that go unsaid. All the things we intended to do and didn’t. We see and hear everything about ourselves, warts and all. All of the time.
With other people, we don’t see and hear all of the ugly things that go through their heads. We don’t necessarily know their deep, dark secrets. And if we did, we are far more likely to be able to overlook those things, especially if they weren’t especially hurtful to us.
But with ourselves, we hear all the things we thought but didn’t say out loud (and of course the things we did say and later regret). We know about wishing death on our husband, and we know that for a few minutes, we really meant it. We remember the time we wished that we didn’t have kids, even though we love them dearly. We listened to ourselves call our best friend a crazy bitch (and not in a good way). We know about all the bad thoughts.
And we know about the darker things too. The things we’ve done and of which we are deeply ashamed. The things we hope no one ever finds out, because if they did, how could they ever love us? How could they ever forgive us?
It’s not that we actively believe that these things make us horrible people, or unlovable exactly. It’s just that it’s really hard to separate all of the seemingly horrible things that we know about ourselves and look at them objectively, the way we can with other people.
So what can we do about it?
Here are some of my favourite things:
- Just notice. This is theoretically simple, but can be difficult to do. Whenever you find yourself thinking what seems like a horrible thing, just notice it. Acknowledge it without judgement, and without trying to change it. Take note of it, and let it pass by, as though you’re watching a movie.
- Call your power back. Check out this article from Danielle LaPorte on how to call your power back to you. This gist of it is — whenever you’re feeling something crappy about someone, something, some place — you’re leaving a little bit of your power with that person or situation. Call it back. I’ve found this to be immensely useful. It’s almost like a meditation.
- Feel all the feelings. We spend an awful lot of time denying negativity. Or at least trying to. I think that feelings just want to be felt. What would it be like if you just welcomed in all your feelings, just acknowledged them as valid and asked them what they wanted, what they needed? When I do this, I find that the negative feelings float away much more quickly than they would if I simply tried to convince myself that the so-called negative feelings are unwarranted and should be replaced with positivity instead.
- Recognize that you can love someone and wish they were different. Including yourself. I can’t imagine that there’s another human being in the world that anyone finds perfect. Even when you love someone, there will be things that you wish were different about them. But those things don’t stop you from loving them. You accept those things as part of the whole person. The same is true for you — chances are, you will never like every little thing about yourself. And that’s okay. Perfection is overrated. Be as gentle and forgiving with yourself as you are with others.
Valentine’s Day is less than a week away. This Valentine’s Day, I challenge you to show yourself some love — as much love as you would show a partner, your kids, a friend. Be your own Valentine. And tell me about it — I’d love to know how you showed yourself some love.
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