What it means to love yourself — that’s a nuanced notion. Loving yourself means being kind to and patient with yourself, validating and accepting yourself as you are and, nonetheless, recognizing that there’s always room for betterment, whatever that uniquely looks like for you. For some, however, learning how to love yourself, if you don’t already, isn’t necessarily an easy feat.
How do you start liking yourself?
The unfortunate truth is that, often, learning self-love really means unlearning the self-deprecatory reinforcements that suffocate the self like a python its prey. We live in a world in which women, in particular, are repeatedly reminded that we’re not enough and that, frankly, whether or not we expend our time, energy and dollars on becoming this preconceived concept of enough, we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t.
As women, we are inimitable protagonists of our own individual lives but are nonetheless conditioned to believe that we must look the same, act and react the same and, ultimately, exist the same. This resounding message plagues our lives, from the time we’re big-eyed and open-hearted girls in school to well into the working world as women.
When you consider that our education system too often fails to discipline our bullies, instead insisting that “boys will be boys” and blaming girls for being “distractive,” it’s not difficult to understand why girls grow up insecure about their bodies. And when you ruminate on the media landscape, not only deficient in women’s voices even on issues critical to women and femme-identifying consumers, but also inundated with hyper-sexualized and objectified and unrealistic (i.e. digitally modified) images of “beautiful” bodies, it’s not difficult to understand why teenage girls don’t feel even next to adequate.
Never mind that, by college, women will find few familiar female faces in their STEM classes — and have even less women to whom they can aspire to be like. And when they do enter the workforce, unlikely opting for primarily male-dominated industries, instead of fair pay and equal opportunities, all too many will fall victim to sexual harassment. When that happens, they’ll be forced to deal or deal with a legal structure perfused with patriarchy.
Finding self-love in a world incessantly throwing in your un-airbrushed face that you’re unattractive, unimportant and undeserving can feel… well, unattainable.
But before society spoiled your self-respect, you were you. And you can find that courageously confident woman for whom you’ve been searching. Perhaps you’ve just been looking in all the wrong places. It’ll take some serious introspection.
How do I become myself again?
Thinking about, how can I be nicer to myself? You need to know yourself and respect yourself to be kind to yourself. And that’s not going to happen overnight, but you can start taking simple steps in order to become yourself again — and to love who you are as you are.
Of course, ignoring the fallacies perpetuated in the media is impossible, and turning a blind eye to the misogyny that plagues schools or workplaces is the wrong move to make. But with these five actions, you’ll develop confidence that comes from within, rather than seeking illusive validation from society. And, with that self-assurance, you’ll walk this world with conviction.
1. Journal with intentions.
Putting words on paper can be immensely healing in and of itself. For one, you clear the clutter in your head and can more easily digest, unpack and reflect on your thoughts — especially any toxic thoughts.
But there are ways in which you can journal with intention to practice self-love. For example, you can spend every evening appreciating yourself by writing down points of pride for each day, what you think you did well, new skills you might have acquired, challenges or fears you’ve overcome, ways in which you’ve helped others and even physical attributes of yours of which you’ve taken notice each day (you had a great hair day!).
Little by little, you won’t have to look so hard for these things; instead, you’ll just start seeing yourself in this positive light.
To make it easier on yourself, you can even find tons of journals designed for practicing self-love.
2. Meditate on positive affirmations and self-loving mantras.
Meditating is the ultimate method of introspection as it requires you to sit with yourself for an extended period of time. What many get wrong about meditation, and why so many say they’re “not good at it,” is that they assume you have to “turn your head off.” Turning your head off is both impossible and unconstructive.
Rather, meditation is about acknowledging all of your thoughts, which are often regrets or replays of the past or questions, concerns and insecurities about the future. And it’s about accepting those thoughts and allowing them to pass without attaching to them in such a way that they consume you. Ultimately, it’s about learning to be present in the moment, appreciating exactly where and how you are, without judging yourself for the inevitable ways in which your mind will wander.
So you can’t be “bad at meditation.” But focusing on the present does take practice. And, further, it takes practice to focus on positive affirmations and self-loving mantras within the present. That, of course, requires some serious navel-gazing that can be uncomfortable for a lot of us. But the more that you sit with yourself and truly think about what you do like about you right then and there, and repeat those affirmations and mantras to yourself, the more you’ll wholeheartedly believe them without having to remind yourself.
Again, to make it easier on yourself, there are tons of meditation apps like Aaptiv and Mindful to help guide your practice.
3. Practice turning negatives into positives.
You were laid off from your job, but that means you have an opportunity to find another, perhaps better-paying or more exciting career. A date stood you up, but that means you didn’t waste your time with someone who doesn’t respect it.
You’re only human, and it’s natural that, when something objectively crappy happens, it’s going to make you feel, well, crappy. But part of loving yourself means not allowing crappy situations happening in your external environment to bring down your internal environment. Of course, looking for the light or lesson in not-so-pleasant circumstances requires a will to be happy and, frankly, feeling sorry for ourselves is sometimes just easier.
Certainly, do not invalidate your negative experience, and do not ignore the negative emotions that it’ll surely induce. It’s important to truly feel how you feel and accept that (or you’ll bottle it up and explode at a later date). But then it’s equally important to move on because you deserve inner peace. And you will do this with greater ease if you can rewire the negatives into positives.
It may be helpful to list all of the negatives on paper and, though it may take some time, come back to it when you’re ready with a parallel list of the matching positives.
4. Identify your weaknesses and, without judgment, work on them.
Nobody is perfect — not even those who appear to have achieved perfection, whatever perfection even denotes. A major key to loving yourself is being able to recognize and be okay with your inevitable weaknesses. And by “be okay with,” I’m not talking about condoning any poor or toxic or obstructive behaviors; I mean that you need to be okay with, simply, the fact that your weaknesses exist because you are only human.
It’s critical that you admit to your weaknesses without judging yourself for having them. Because, only when you can respect your whole self — the good, the bad and the ugly — can you improve, grow and mature. This isn’t to say that you need to change who you are for anyone else; rather, if there is something that doesn’t sit well with you (you recognize that you have a tendency to talk over others, perhaps), know that it doesn’t define you, but it is indeed a part of you, and you can fine-tune it so it becomes a better part of you.
It’s also important to remember, however, that you do not need to make an overnight change. Sustainable change takes time. Set small goals for yourself and focus on your successes as opposed to the workload ahead of you.
5. Surround yourself with those who lift you up.
You’ll have a much harder time loving yourself if you spend your time with people who don’t respect you and, as such, may make you second guess any love you do give yourself. Surround yourself with friends and family and partners and colleagues who lift you up instead of put you down — people who will reinforce all of the journals you’ve written and the affirmations and mantras you’ve recited.
Likewise, surround yourself with others who respect themselves. You are the company you keep, and if you spend your time with other self-deprecating downers, that kind of talk will be all you know. Choose others who inspire and motivate you instead.
If you don’t already have these people in your life, consider signing up for a class, a club sports team or joining a Meetup to meet new, like-minded people.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.