Loving and supportive relationships are crucial to your well-being. But to truly love someone else, you need to be able to love yourself. That’s what allows you to empathize and connect with others on a deeper level.
Just as you would care for yourself if you had a physical health condition, learning to love yourself is essential so you meet your physical and emotional needs, stay emotionally healthy, reduce stress (or manage stress) and build a level of self-awareness.
Brendon Comer, a licensed clinical social worker and counselor with Banner Health, shared some tips for treating yourself with the love you deserve.
Understand what self-love means
Truly practicing self-love means genuinely loving yourself for who you are, flaws and all. It does not mean that you are selfish. It doesn’t mean that you are going to feel good about yourself all the time. It is more than taking a bubble bath, treating yourself to new shoes or repeating affirmations.
Know you are worthy
Your worthiness does not depend on what you do, who you are or how you look. You deserve to treat yourself with respect, compassion and value just because of who you are. Know that you are enough.
Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend
Many of us tend to beat ourselves up or be hard on ourselves. But you wouldn’t do that if a close friend or someone you love was upset or feeling down. You would try to build them up. Treat yourself with that same level of compassion and love. Make a conscious effort to stop abusing yourself and to be kind to yourself when things don’t go as planned.
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else
Everyone’s life is different. We all have our own struggles and things that bring us happiness. Comparing yourself to others can be a tough habit to break but ending this type of negative self-talk is a good step toward being kinder to yourself.
“Sometimes negative self-comparisons happen despite your best efforts to ‘make them stop’ or force-feed positivity in place of negativity. If so, you may have learned, ‘I’m never good enough,’” Comer said. It could be that you were hurt in the past and a part of you is protecting yourself by keeping confidence and contentment as far away as possible. “If this part can keep the bar as low as possible, there won’t be much room for disappointment because that’s the expectation to begin with,” he explained.
To stop thinking this way, you can practice being curious and compassionate to that part of yourself that may have learned in the past that it’s safer to be negative than positive.
Try to live intentionally every day
Daily steps will help you get to where you want to be. “To me, living intentionally means to practice being present and connected to our moment-by-moment experience,” Comer said. That means cultivating mindfulness and engaging with what you’re experiencing right now instead of how you want things to be in the future or how things were in the past.
“A mundane task, such as doing the dishes, can be such a different experience when you’re present with it versus when you’re caught up in things like what you’d rather be doing or how unfair it is that it’s your turn to do the dishes again,” he said. “When you focus your attention on the present moment, you may notice the shape of the bubbles, the warmth of the water on your hands or the transition of that plate from grimy to shiny.”
When you return your attention to the present moment, you might be able to experience things differently that you’ve learned to dread or avoid.
Challenge yourself and cheer your wins
Growing up, our parents often cheered us on to acknowledge our successes. As an adult, it’s essential to continue that tradition. Challenge yourself to something new every week or even every day. You might surprise yourself and master a new skill. Push yourself to reach your goals and be proud of all the little things you accomplish. Celebrate even your smallest wins along the way. Even getting started or increasing your physical activity is worthy of self-praise.
Block off time for yourself
As part of your care plans, take a few minutes of “me time” every day to focus on self-reflection and the practice of mindfulness. Learn to be comfortable spending time with yourself. Practice gratitude by finding something you are grateful for each day, even when you are feeling down.
Writing down your thoughts or answering reflection questions can help you better understand your own life. Looking at your everyday life as a third-party observer helps you know yourself better.
Set healthy boundaries
People who love and support you can help you see what others see in you. If people in your life aren’t supportive, get comfortable saying no. Don’t be afraid to distance yourself from people or situations that are not positively influencing you. “Healthy boundaries are incredibly important for practicing self-care and self-love. The word ‘no’ is such an important tool,” Comer said.
Many people learned at a young age that it’s not OK to disappoint others and that your worth depends on how well you attend to others. This behavior can be very taxing and can cause exhaustion, burnout and resentment because you expend too much energy on others and not enough on caring for yourself and recharging. “Practicing a balance between ‘You matter’ and ‘I matter’ can be an important guide in setting up and maintaining healthy boundaries,” Comer said.
Love yourself as you are right now
It’s easy to get into a mindset of telling yourself that you must achieve a certain goal before you love yourself. You don’t have to wait until you lose weight, get promoted, buy a house or reach some other goal to love yourself. The only way self-love works is by loving yourself as you are now. And the more you practice self-love, the easier it gets.
Think of yourself as a classroom
Comer shared a model that can help you make sense of your emotional health. “We all have a unique and complicated emotional system,” he said. You can compare this system to a classroom. Your self-energy is the leader, or teacher, of this classroom. Your emotional parts are the students.
The teacher has qualities such as calmness, curiosity, creativity, clarity, confidence, compassion, courage and connectedness. The students are parts of the whole—an artistic part, a competitive part, a caregiving part, a playful part, etc. “Parts can be amazing contributors to the system. But some of the parts may also carry burdens from past pain or trauma,” he said. With self-love practices, care includes all the parts of your classroom.
Know when to seek help
Sometimes the level of trauma makes it too much for people to be able to care for and attend to wounded or burdened emotional parts. Unhealed trauma can have a significant impact on a person’s life. Trauma-informed therapy with a therapist who has knowledge, skill and experience with unhealed trauma can be a critical step toward re-balancing a person’s emotional system and healing the part or parts that need care and attention.
The bottom line
Self-love isn’t being selfish. It’s an integral part of being a happy and healthy individual, and unconditional love of yourself is a long-term commitment to yourself. If you need help mastering this skill, a behavioral or mental health expert can help. Reach out to Banner Health to connect with someone with the expertise you need.