By Lauren Presutti
We spend a lot of our time focused on relationships. From music lyrics, movies, television, books, magazines, gossip, and more, we are flooded with stories about dating, finding love, breaking up, engagements, marriages, soulmates, relationship advice, and countless other romance-oriented ideas. And with social media, sometimes it seems like everyone else has it all figured out. There is so much emphasis on perfecting your dating life and putting yourself out there. Let’s take a moment and turn the direction inward. Do you ever think about the relationship with yourself? It seems backwards, but it’s so important to think about how you are loving yourself. This is not meant to be a replacement for finding a partner. Instead, thinking about self-love is merely an exercise to assess your own mental health and discover how your relationship with yourself may be contributing to your level of happiness.
People who love themselves typically report that they understand their wants and needs and regularly act on those things to bring them nourishment and pleasure. People who love themselves are generally committed to putting in effort to create a life that they truly love, instead of settling for unhappiness or attending to the expectations of others. Loving yourself includes engaging with things in the world that bring you feelings of gratitude, excitement, and personal fulfillment. It involves not being hard on yourself all the time, giving yourself the grace to make mistakes and learn from them, forgiving yourself when needed, managing your daily life stress, and embracing your authentic self. Honoring your individuality, reframing self-defeating thoughts or feelings, accepting every aspect of who you are, and taking care of both your physical and mental health equally are all a part of self-love.
On the other hand, people who struggle to love themselves usually share that they feel flooded with negative self-talk, such as “I hate myself, I’m never good enough, I’m a failure.” This kind of negative self-talk may lead to persistent feelings of anxiety and depression, so it’s critical to learn skills and strategies to address those thinking patterns. People who struggle with self-love also may feel ashamed of who they are, which means they may be more likely to conceal their interests, opinions, or full personalities with others. They may also feed into destructive habits and disallow themselves to have pleasurable experiences. They may feel as though they’re not deserving of love and affection, which may be stemming from past abuse or neglect, the tendency to compare themselves to others, or a lack of boundaries with toxic people. Confronting these issues and identifying the root cause is often the first step to beginning a journey toward self-love.
It’s important to remember that self-love isn’t just about practicing self-care or employing coping skills. While these are certainly important, a person cannot usually shift from self-hatred to self-love with self-care or coping skills alone. Shifting to self-love must include an ongoing commitment to the healing process, which requires the willingness to be vulnerable, to reveal parts of you that are hurting, and to process and explore the past experiences that have led to a lack of self-love. For those who don’t love themselves, this process may be uncomfortable at first because it may bring up past trauma, but it can also be transformative for people to finally heal from trauma and move toward recovery.
To assess your own relationship with yourself, think about the questions below:
- Are you taking care of your own needs?
- Are you treating yourself with compassion and kindness?
- Are you being your authentic self inwardly and outwardly?
- Are you setting healthy boundaries and sticking to them?
- Are you making time for personal enjoyment and fun?
- Are you accepting yourself completely the way that you are?
- Are you forgiving yourself for past mistakes?
- Are you spending time with people who make you feel good?
- Are you following what you know to be true in your heart?
- Are you honoring your emotions and trusting yourself?
- Are you allowing love and human connection into your life?
Reflecting on these questions may bring up some tough emotions, so please take care of yourself and reach out for help if needed. Sometimes having a safe space in therapy is the perfect way to really focus on your internal experience as and discover how you can achieve greater wellness in your life.