I never gave much thought (if any at all) to self-love until two years ago. My entire life I have always had a firm grasp on the importance of being loving and kind to others, but I was never taught the importance of being loving and kind to myself. I remember thinking that self-love was a nice way of saying conceited – I was wrong about that. Self-love is an absolute game changer – it will change the way that you feel about yourself, it will change your thoughts, choices, and behaviour, and it will improve the relationships that you choose to have (or not have) in your life. The question is, how do you cultivate self-love? How do you love yourself? I don’t have all of the answers, but I will share my thoughts on this seemingly elusive thing called self-love.
If you don’t love yourself, it’s pretty difficult to understand how someone who loves themselves would behave. It’s difficult to conceive if you’ve never done it before – trust me, I know. So, let’s flip things around for a second. If you don’t know how you would behave if you really, truly, authentically loved yourself, let’s take a look at how you might behave when you don’t love, or much less, like yourself. What choices are you making that reflect back to you a lack of love for yourself? What are you allowing in your life that someone who dislikes themselves would likely allow? How are you speaking to yourself or treating yourself in a way that proves how little you love yourself? Sometimes it’s easier (though still uncomfortable) to examine the ways in which we show a lack of love for ourselves, rather than to jump in head first by trying to think of what we can do in order to love ourselves.
We all know I’m an open book, so I’ll use myself as an example. Before I learned about self-love, I hated myself – though that makes me sad to think about now, it’s the cold, hard truth. When I didn’t love myself, I mistreated myself. I spoke terribly to myself, I uttered things to myself far crueler than any human could ever say about me. I called myself worthless, fat, ugly, unlovable, unworthy, disgusting, you name it, I’ve probably said it to myself. My actions and behaviours were a reflection of how little I liked myself. I drank all the time, multiple days of the week, and drank until I didn’t know where or who I was. I lived on junk food, never exercised, and treated my body like human garbage. Because I didn’t like myself, I allowed others to treat me just as poorly as I had been treating myself. I allowed men to walk all over me, use me, manipulate me. I allowed “friends” to treat me poorly, I allowed people to say cruel things to and about me, because I had been saying cruel things about myself for most of my life. Every choice in my life, every behaviour, every thought, demonstrated just how little I loved myself.
So, how do we reverse this pattern? How do we tackle self-love? I’m sure there are many different answers, but I would suggest that we start by taking a look at 1) Our choices and 2) Our thoughts. The next time you think a thought about yourself, stop, and ask yourself, “Is this the thought of someone who loves themselves or hates themselves?” If it’s the latter, shut it down, choose a new thought. At first you might not believe that new thought, but that’s okay, the important thing is to first eliminate the self-deprecating thought. The next time you’re in a situation when you’re faced with a choice or decision to make, stop, and ask yourself, “Is this the choice of someone who loves themselves or who doesn’t like or value themselves?” And then choose accordingly.
Closely examine your thoughts, and the choices that you’ve made, and have continued to make, that have led you to exactly where you are now. Take a look at your closest relationships. Are you valued by those closest to you? Are you loved? Respected? Or are you undervalued? Used? Mistreated? Pay close attention to the way that you speak to and about yourself. Are you kind to yourself? Or are you cruel? Do you praise yourself, or do you punish yourself? We can’t pinpoint how to love ourselves, until we first pinpoint how we’re not loving ourselves.
I see self-love as a series of one empowered thought, followed by another empowered thought, followed by another. A series of making one empowered choice, followed by another empowered choice, followed by another. Start with one thought, and one choice at a time. This isn’t always easy, and often the empowered choice is a difficult choice to make. For example, when I made the decision to start treating myself with the love and respect I had so often sought from others, this meant terminating certain relationships. It meant asking certain love interests to exit my life, because they didn’t treat me the way that I deserved to be treated. It meant no longer giving my time, energy, and attention to things and people that drained me. It meant confronting the ways that I needed to change, in order to be the best version of myself, both for myself and for others. All of these things can lead to uncomfortable feelings and uncomfortable conversations, but they can also lead to empowerment.
In an ideal world we could learn self-love overnight. We could wake up the next morning, look in the mirror, and instantly love every single thing about ourselves. Unfortunately the path to self-love can be far more complex than that. But, you have to start somewhere, and simply deciding that you’re going to learn to love yourself is a powerful place to start. One thought at a time, one choice at a time, one day at a time.