“Whatever you are doing, love yourself for doing it. Whatever you are feeling, love yourself for feeling it.” –Thaddeus Golas, 20th century author and philosopher
Are you a loving person? Are you kind, friendly, and encouraging? For most of us, the answer to these questions is yes—at least to some degree.
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But here’s the true litmus test of unconditional love: Are you a loving person to yourself? Are you kind, friendly, and encouraging to yourself? Chances are it’s harder to answer yes to these questions.
It’s easy to love yourself for your “good” qualities: your talents and successes. The trick is in learning to love your less-than-perfect qualities. The most direct way you can love the unlovable in yourself is to bring the feeling of love to whatever it is you’re feeling or experiencing – even it’s challenging or unpleasant. If you’re having a hard time loving yourself, begin by simply loving the fact that you are unable to love yourself in this moment.
Try this little experiment: Think of something that you really don’t like about yourself – you’re too fat or too thin, you can’t balance your checkbook, for example. Now close your eyes, and remember a time when you felt love in your heart for someone or something. Notice if you feel a warmth or expansion in the area of your heart. Now direct that same feeling of love toward yourself—just as you are, flaws and all.
Let’s be clear here, I’m not asking you to love your excess flab or your boniness or your lameness in the bean-counting department. What I’m suggesting is that you beam love, compassion, and understanding to that person who’s experiencing the challenge: you! When you do this, you’ll probably feel a physical shift in your body – you’ll be more relaxed and you may even find yourself smiling.
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When you can love yourself in every situation—whether you’ve succeeded or failed, whether you feel good or bad, whether you’re enjoying life or hating it – you’ve taken self-love to the unconditional level.
This one small act can have big and measurable effects. A team of British researchers led by Dr. Paul Gilbert showed that training people to be loving and compassionate toward every aspect of themselves – even toward their tendency to be self-critical – significantly reduced mental suffering, depression, anxiety, self-criticism, shame, inferiority, and submissive behavior, while upping their ability to soothe and reassure themselves.