Learning To Love Yourself: Here’s Some Advice That Actually Works
“There are a hundred paths through the world that are easier than loving. But who wants easier?” -Mary Oliver
It’ll never be enough to simply stand in front of a mirror and repeat: “I love myself, I love myself, I love myself…” No matter how well-intentioned or dedicated you are to the common practice, it won’t dispel that sense of self-hatred that refuses to budge. It’s as if on a bright, sunny morning you looked out the window and proclaimed: “It’s nighttime, it’s nighttime, it’s nighttime.” No matter how many times you repeat that phrase, you won’t convince yourself otherwise.
I asked myself a million times over: What would it take to love myself? What am I supposed to do to get there? Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it was the gist of my attitude. The issue wasn’t that I didn’t try hard enough to change my thought processes, but rather that I didn’t act in ways congruent with loving myself. I didn’t put myself first. I didn’t focus on my mental and physical health above all else. I didn’t allow myself the space to simply enjoy life and find a reasonable balance.
It turns out that attitudes don’t necessarily change behavior, but rather its your behavior that has greater power to change your attitudes. Behavior and attitude feed off of each other. If you were to look at my life as an outsider during my worst moments a couple years ago, it really would have seemed like I hated myself. I dragged myself around campus when I didn’t feel well. I ate as fast as possible to avoid ‘wasting time.’ I didn’t do the things that made me happy. These are only a few examples that come to mind, the latter the most telling, I think.
It’ll never be enough to do the things you’re supposed to do if those aren’t the things that reflect loving yourself. My greatest passions were (and still are) writing, reading, and directly helping people with mental issues, yet I was bent on going into fields that didn’t reflect that. If I really loved myself, what would I do instead? I decided to major in English, Psychology, and Creative Writing. To draw from another example, I used to sleep around 5 hours per night, on average, in order to keep studying and working on assignments. Is this the behavior of a person who loves herself? No –so I put all of my energy into finding ways to finish work earlier and improve sleep quality.
Some variation of the question, How do I show that I love myself? or If I loved myself, what would I do? is helpful not only for areas of life that may need improvement, but also as a simple reflection on a daily basis. Or even to figure out how to fill the space in your life. For example, you can make a short list each day about what you’ve done to show you love yourself –even the smallest things, like taking the time to see a friend for coffee or reading a book for fun, can make all the difference.
If you find it difficult to even start a conversation with yourself about loving yourself, imagine that you’re thinking about someone you really love. Maybe a best friend or partner for whom you want the absolute best in life. Would you want them to pursue a career outside of their true passions? Or pull all-nighters all the time? Or be involved with those who make them miserable? It’s essential that you learn to love yourself as much as you love others because no one except for yourself will fill that gap within.
Don’t simply read this article and forget all that’s been said. Write down your own variation of the question of how do I show I love myself in a place you’ll see it. Put a reminder on your calendar to think about it. Journal about it. Whatever you do, don’t expect change without the dedication of returning to this question on a regular basis. There’s no easy solution, but if you continue to ask yourself to act in a loving way towards yourself, you will begin to feel it, and the cycle will become second-nature.