How Do We Learn To Love Ourselves?

Artist: Dylan Glynn

Hello dear friends,

This is a tough blog to write, because this is a topic that is so deeply felt by so many of us, lodged deep in our wounded psyches, and we often have no idea how to even begin healing. So many of us are disconnected from ourselves, using whatever we can find to tune our that inner castigating voice, to numb out from the pain of disliking the one person we have to spend every moment of this life with- the one who, when you gaze into the mirror, gazes back at you.

We are suffering from an epidemic of self-loathing, evident in everything from current media to the rise in toxic relationships and destructive behavioral patterns. We absorb all the negativity surrounding us (especially we empaths), shouldering the burdens of pain and longing of an entire group of beautiful humans who simply can’t see how beautiful they really are. And if you happen to be living with a chronic illness of any kind, you have probably experienced this on an even more visceral level.

I know for me, the connection and companionship I felt with myself was thrown on the rocks when I got sick. I had to renegotiate everything I thought about my self-image and my self-worth. Because funny enough, the hardest relationship we will ever have is the one that is immune to divorce. We can’t ever give up and get rid of our relationship to our own selves; it simply shifts over time, but never goes away. Even when we are exhausted and angry and hurt and wish we could just break this whole thing off, we are still here when we wake up in the morning.

So how do we start to move towards a more loving and understanding existence with ourselves? How do you learn to love yourself when you’re alone? When you’re sick? When you’re unemployed? When you’re abandoned and alone? When you’re in pain and you feel betrayed?

How do you learn to love yourself when nobody else will?

Obviously, these thoughts are only one small part of a big ol’ puzzle of self-identification and acceptance. But they’re an okay place to start or when you need a little reminder now and then. 

1. Find a different rubric to measure yourself by

Basing your self worth on external factors is one hell of an exhausting treadmill, and you may just have to pitch yourself off the side if you want to end that struggle. Fighting with both your ego and how you think people see you will always leave you beaten down, because no matter how much success you achieve, there will always be a higher bar. If you think you will love yourself when you finally land that dream job, or when your ex finally takes you back, or when you finally beat this cancer…you’re just setting yourself up for more pain. Our culture loves to define and categorize people based on their appearance, income, education, health/vitality, material possessions, and strength of their marriages. Well, f*ck that I say.

Find a new measuring stick. Think of the gifts you possess, the skills and passions you have. Ponder your creativity and compassion. What unique things you bring to the world, and how you can be of service to the greater good. Think of the people who you have been kind to, the connections you’ve made, and the experiences that made you joyful. Start measuring your life based on those things, and not on the number of new gadgets you have in your kitchen or how many girl/boyfriends you’ve had.

2. Spend some time alone

Yes, I know this is coming from the mouth of a new divorcée, but it’s applicable to and helpful for everyone. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, it’s time to invest in some quality “me” time. This is the only way you truly get to know yourself and understand the forces at play in your own heart and mind. It can absolutely be terrifying and sobering to sit with your own naked truth and see the section of the universe that you occupy. You will probably experience some fear, some pain, and some doubt. But you will also experience some freedom, some awakening, and a whole lot of holistic understanding.

If you’re dealing with a health challenge, you’ve probably been given more opportunities than most to plunder the depths of your soul. Laying in bed day after day, sitting out social invitations, unable to work a traditional job…those create a lot of space for us to sit and get to know ourselves. So perhaps if you are healthy and well, you have to work a little harder to carve out that kind of time and intention. But it’s worth it in the end.

So get to know the real you. Take yourself on a date and experience something new. Write yourself a love letter. Look at yourself in the mirror until it starts to get uncomfortable. Treat yourself to something special now and then. Learn how to amuse yourself, soothe yourself, and enjoy being in your own presence.

3. Set healthy boundaries

Your emotions and intuition are there to guide you and communicate to you when something feels good and when they feel not so good. But somehow we have a hard time standing up for ourselves when it comes to our interactions with others, and we end up putting ourselves in painful situations over and over again. We as women are particularly good at this. We tend to ignore our inner signals and bend until it hurts in order to avoid confrontation or in order to win favor.

Think of the last time someone stood up for you and how that made you feel. Now, wouldn’t that be amazing if we could all do that for ourselves? So make a list of the things that you need and want and the things you will not tolerate. Think of everything you are and are not willing to compromise on, and start setting boundaries with the people in your life. And no, you do not need them to understand your reasons, you just need them to respect your limits.

Strong and healthy boundaries are how you protect yourself from harm, from psychological damage, and from losing your own identity and direction. Setting and communicating these boundaries is the ultimate act of self-love. You should always be able to count on yourself to have your own back, no matter what everyone else is doing.  

Artist: Lori Portka

4. Forgive yourself

It’s been said that the things that keep popping up in our consciousness are the things we haven’t yet forgiven ourselves for. The people and places that recur in our dreams, the patterns that we cannot seem to break, and the seemingly Divine messages we receive are all rooted in our past grievances. And whew! You thought forgiving your abusive parents or your cheating ex was hard? Forgiving ourselves for everything we’ve done, regardless of the consequences attached to those decisions, is the hardest thing of all.

Yes, this process might be painful, because it requires us to explore our biggest disappointments and our deepest guilt and shame. This is often a good time to bring in a therapist or other integrative healer to help you walk through the darkness of your own experiences. And honestly, this is some hard stuff. I still work with this every day, but I believe that forgiveness isn’t a one-time thing, it’s a pattern, a habit, a muscle that needs strengthening. And once you get enough practice, you can more easily forgive yourself for all the “mistakes” you are inevitably going to make in the future.

So think about all the things that keep showing up and what they are tied to. Dig deep. Get out a journal or listen to a podcast to help you sift through it all. Then work with a professional, or do an at-home practice of meditation, art therapy, or hypnosis to begin releasing the guilt and shame you’re still holding on to.

5. Surround yourself with the right people

 If you are working hard to build yourself up and improve your relationship to yourself, then it makes no sense to keep spending time with people who cut you down. This hearkens back to our discussion on boundaries, because toxic and negative people are the ones that need to hear those boundaries the most. Perhaps in your journey to self-love, you will find that it’s time to let go of some relationships altogether, and that is a perfectly okay thing to do! You need to build a healthy and supportive social circle, and only include the people that really have your back and don’t sabotage your efforts.

Make an effort to spend time with people who support your need for alone time, for reflection, and for self-care. Give priority to people who are fully present for your interactions, show you genuine love and respect, and those who you know you can count on when times are tough. Truly loving yourself means expecting more out of the people you call your friends. You deserve to be seen, to be heard, to be valued. Not minimized, ignored, or belittled. So start pruning your contact list to only include the ones who you share a mutually kind and supportive relationship with. Because everyone deserves to be part of a tribe that welcomes them with open arms.

Beyond the positive affirmations and uplifting quotes on your bathroom mirror, these five things can help you really get in love with yourself again. And regain the presence and freedom you felt deep in your bones before the world told you it was wrong. We’re all on this adventure together, to heal the most important relationship we can ever have.

So tell me, how do you like to show yourself some love?

~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~