How to Start Loving Yourself
There has recently been a big push in the world of mental health toward self-love and self-care. We encourage others to "love yourself" - but what does loving yourself really mean, in practical terms? How do we learn to find compassion and comfort within, especially when our internal monologues are often ones of criticism, judgment, or doubt?
So many people struggle to truly care for themselves, despite their best efforts. They dutifully draw themselves a bath or take some "me-time" or even work to set boundaries in their relationships in order to protect precious internal resources. But even with these efforts, they might find themselves feeling unhappy with themselves, angry at their failures or critical of their own decisions about self-care.
One route to self-love might be an attitude shift that is small, but very powerful. You might continue doing the same things as you have been doing to care for yourself, but do them in a different mindset. I often encourage clients to consider themselves as they would a dear friend, or even a romantic partner. Would you tell a friend who is feeling insecure to "stop whining, don't be an idiot!"? Of course not, but these are often the kinds of harsh and shaming statements we make to ourselves in times of need. You might instead tell a friend how much they deserve kindness and respect, and how much you care and want to help.
Sometimes imagining the self as a loved one can allow us access to the kinds of compassion and care that we find it difficult to find for ourselves. Similarly, we are sometimes more likely to be accountable and respectful toward a friend than we might be to ourselves, so conceptualizing ourselves as good friends who we want to respect and honor can allow us to behave in trustworthy ways, laying the foundation for integrity and self-respect.
A simple act like setting the coffeemaker to brew your morning coffee can become a gift for Future You, a happy surprise that you leave behind, with the joy of knowing that tomorrow, you will wake and find that someone made you coffee! You might feel a suprising thrill, or a swell of gratitude, and then you have a second opportunity to build your cascade of self-love, by thinking fondly of your past self, feeling lucky to have someone to watch out for you and do small acts of service to make your day better.
This is a small example, but building these sorts of habits can create a feedback loop with enormous consequences for your relationship with yourself. As you begin to think of ways you might demonstrate your love, or ways you might express your gratitude, you will begin to find a new appreciation for your own kindness and generosity. Next time you make a mistake, it might be that much easier to reach out and offer yourself comfort and reassurance, because you intimately know your own good intentions and you want to nurture that. Then, once you do comfort yourself, you begin to know that you are a good friend to yourself, and that you will be there for your own needs, which is the foundation of strong trust and love.
-Andrea Medaris, Psy.D.