Easy for Justin Bieber to sing, not so easy to do. I’m so happy to be writing this post for crosswordsnotwires on self-love, because I think that it’s a really important topic to think about and it often means different things to different people.
We live in a stressed-out world, exposed to constant messages of bigger, better, faster. We’re told that we should look a certain way and act a certain way, and anything outside of that can be seen as ‘wrong’. Is it any wonder that we find it difficult to care about ourselves, and to care for ourselves, in the face of that?
Now when I’m talking about self-love I don’t mean narcissism, that’s something different – and I’d argue that most people have the opposite problem to this in that they tend to downplay their achievements and try not to focus on the good things about themselves. Loving yourself isn’t about thinking you’re fantastic all the time; it’s about caring enough about yourself to attend to your needs. And if you can attend to your own needs, you can look after someone else as well – because it’s often important to be able to love yourself before you try to love someone else. Here are a few different ways that I think you can show yourself some love:
• Get good at the basics – first of all, make sure you’ve got the basics covered. Are you drinking enough water? Eaten something good today? Did you get enough sleep last night? Have you seen something that made you smile today? Have you moved your body in a way that makes you feel good? All of these things might sound silly, but treating your body kindly can be a good way of showing it that you care. You are worthy of this kind of care – I know that to be true, because everybody is.
• Spend time with people who care about you – this can be a difficult one when you’re struggling to care about yourself, but surrounding yourself with people who genuinely have your best interests at heart can be really helpful. They can bring out the best in you, and help you to realise that they love you for who you are – and if they can do that, so can you.
• Stop comparing yourself to other people – I know, instagram is right there and it’s so tempting, but you know by now that you’re not looking at a version of reality. It’s largely false, and not something that you can ever achieve. The people who post “inspirational” pictures can barely achieve it most of the time! Step away from the negative comparisons, they can only do you harm.
• Write down the good stuff – instead of comparing yourself negatively to others, spend time thinking about what you’re good at instead. You might be brilliant at writing, or making people laugh, or a million other things. If you’re struggling to think of things, ask the people from bullet point two – I bet they can help you to think of a really long list.
• Practice being kind to others – we’re all good at gossiping and being a bit snippy from time to time, but what would the world be like if we did that less? Try spending a day refraining from gossip, and saying one nice thing to everyone that you talk to. It might be easy, or it might surprise you at how difficult it is, and that’s useful information to have.
• Just do it – I bet there’s something that you’re putting off until you are fitter, or thinner, or stronger, isn’t there? We’re so used to saying that we’ll do things “later” that we often don’t end up doing them. But if it’s something that you know you want to do, and that you’ll enjoy, sometimes we have to do it as we are. I promise you, losing five pounds won’t mean that you’ll enjoy your wedding any more – it will be the last thing on your mind. Practicing doing things as you are now will help you to realise that you’re enough, and that you deserve to enjoy your life in this moment, not the next.
• Look at the darkness – we all do things that we’re not proud of. We’ve all said things we didn’t mean, or behaved in ways that make us feel icky, but it’s important to embrace that part of ourselves. Now, I don’t mean saying “that’s just the way I am, like it or not!” because that means that you continue to hurt others and not take responsibility for your actions, but acknowledging that you have a part of you that isn’t always the best of you is helpful because it allows you to change. It also allows you to love yourself unconditionally – even if you can get angry, or upset. Those are normal human emotions, and it’s okay to feel them sometimes.
• See a therapist – if the things that you tell yourself are always negative, and you tend to beat yourself up about little things, it might be that the things above don’t help. It can be useful to meet with a therapist to talk through how you feel about yourself, as they will have lots of different ways to help you to manage those difficult thoughts. It’s not always easy to find someone who you feel comfortable talking to, but it is worth it – you’re allowed to shop around a bit to find the right person to help you.
Ultimately, loving yourself isn’t something that just happens once and then you’re good for life. It’s a process made of lots of little steps as you go through the world, and it takes a lot of time and practice to make sure that the difficult things that happen don’t knock your belief in yourself. If you can continue to love yourself in the face of difficult life situations, then you’ll know that you’re doing well.
Sarah Blackshaw is a clinical psychologist working in the area of physical health. She loves working with all different types of people to help them to feel better. Outside of work she’s a keen runner and chocolate eater – the two tend to cancel each other out! She can be found on Twitter at @academiablues, and she blogs over at http://www.clinpsychsarah.com