It feels like a hokey thing to say, "Just love yourself!" Except it's a profound practice.
If there's one thing I've learned in life, it's this: The only way to really understand and experience love is when you can truly and deeply love yourself. When you can feel what compassion feels like: forgiveness, kindness, understanding. When you can feel the effects of a love that nurtures and uplifts.
Once you feel that warmth and see its effects first-hand, then can you extend that same love outward. It's not easy, of course. A lot of us were raised to deny our feelings, to deny our needs. Some of us were raised by mothers who wore selflessness like a badge of honor. Many of us have lingering beliefs, often from childhood, that we don't deserve love; that we aren't worthy. Maybe not consciously, but why else would we tolerate such un-loving thoughts and self-destructive behaviors?
But here's the thing: It doesn't matter why it's hard to love yourself, you CAN love yourself. Right now. Rightthisverysecond. It's something that's available to every single person; it's your birth right.
Not only that, but truly loving yourself is actually the most loving thing you can do for the people around you. Our whole lives we've been told to "treat others as we want to be treated," which is fine enough advice, except it's missing a key component: We treat others as we treat ourselves. And so if we're less of an asshole to ourselves, we can be less of an asshole to the people around us.
I'm not proclaiming to be a self-love expert. In fact, I've only discovered its true potential in the last year or two. But I've felt it, down to my core, and I've been able to incorporate small, simple ways to click into that self-love perspective. Here's a few of them:
1. Think and speak kindly to yourself.
We're so hard on our poor selves. We think that we're motivating, that we're being humble, but in reality? We're total jerks. We say things to ourselves, right in the mirror, that we'd never say to someone we love. We think hurtful thoughts and then believe those thoughts are true. We berate ourselves for all the ways we're lacking, all the things we should have done or said. We speak to ourselves in a way that we'd never tolerate from a friend.
Be your own friend. Change the way you talk to yourself. Try a softer approach — the way a mother would nurture a small child. It's not easy to change those hard-wired thought patterns, but give it a try. Right now. Look at yourself the way you'd look at a friend. Say something kind. It has the power to change your entire perspective.
2. Laugh at unkind thoughts.
There's this notion in the self-help/spiritual realm that we can and should eradicate that primal, fear-based "ego" that likes to feed us lies and illusions. That the ego is "bad" and attachment is "bad" and YOU REALLY SHOULDN'T BE SO ANGRY, YAH KNOW. And so what happens? We inevitably slip up, as we all do, and then think things like, "Ugh what is wrong with me?!"
Nothing is wrong with us. We have biological realities here in these bodies. We have experiences and conditionings and evolutionary reactions that are completely out of our control. Being at odds with a part of myself never felt very loving and so I stopped fighting them, judging them. I started laughing at them instead.
Sometimes I do something stupid or fall into a self-constructed mind-trap and think, That's such a Michelle thing to do, and laugh it away. Adding a little humor and shaking my head with a smile makes everything feel lighter. It's like I'm ruffling the hair of the silly thought — "oh, you again!" — and then nudging it away, off to play, like I would a child. That seems to unstick the thought and lets a little more love back in.
3. Hug your body.
Ohhhh boy, you just tuned out, didn't you? Did this just get too hippy-dippy for you? But think about it: How often do you really touch and care for the body you're in? Give yourself a little squeeze, with gratitude. Really touch and feel your skin when you're showering, paying attention to your body (rather than letting your mind wander). Shoot yourself a wink in the mirror. HUG YOUR BODY! It does a lot for you, dammit.
4. Forgive yourself.
True self-forgiveness takes time, perspective, and usually a little therapy. But it's something you can work on right now. Sometimes the simple act of asking yourself, "What can I forgive?" — maybe writing it in a journal and just thinking about the question — will open yourself up. Look at your face in the mirror and say, "I forgive you."
Let go of the grudge. Forgive your past choices. Lend yourself compassion for your story, knowing that it's only a story.
Despite how we act and think, we are playful creatures. Every last one of us. Every time you laugh or dance or act joyful and silly, that's an act of love toward your true nature. Do something that fills you up, without judgment. Take a hoola-hooping class, try belly dancing, hit the ski slopes. Find time to nurture that playful side of yourself.
6. Cut toxic people from your life.
You deserve to be surrounded by people who lift you up. Period.
7. Dismantle your walls.
Most of us have walls in place — walls we built as children to protect ourselves, to feel safe in an unstable or confusing environment. It was a matter of survival.
And yet as we grow up, we realize those walls don't keep us protected; they keep us isolated. They're so tall and thick that love can't get into our hearts. As much as we want to love ourselves and others, we can't understand love if we don't know how to accept it.
This isn't something you can do rightthisverysecond because wall dismantling takes time. But you can book a therapy session. You can take an honest look at why and how you built your walls. You can set an intention to slowly take them down, eventually realizing the truth: They were always imaginary.
8. Say no.
No to the incessant people pleasing. No to eating leftover scraps and putting your needs last. No to the obligations that deplete us, cost us, hurt us. Learning how and when to say NO is an incredible act of love toward yourself.
9. Celebrate yourself.
Too often we brush away our accomplishments for fear of being too self-indulgent or narcissitic. But screw all that! Pop the champagne. Eat the cake. Crank up the music and celebrate YOU.
10. Accept yourself exactly as you are.
It's the hardest and easiest thing you'll ever do (and it's also the most loving): Just be. Allow whatever feelings you're having to just happen. Allow the pressure-cooker explosion of pent-up emotions to happen. Cry when you need to cry. Embrace your anxiety and brokenness. Let go of the hard-fought battle with SHOULDs and self-constructed expectations. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is to just accept yourself.
"When we struggle to change ourselves we, in fact, only continue the patterns of self-judgment and aggression. We keep the war against ourselves alive." —Jack Kornfield
Put down the self-improvement projects, the self-help books, and sing yourself a love song. Remind yourself that you're okay; you've always been okay.
Self-love isn't something for you to do; it's something for you to experience. And when you do — when you slightly shift to a more loving and kind perspective — the way you see the world will shift, too. In fact, it just might change... everything.