When it comes to loving ourselves, there seems to be a deep resistance for a great majority of people. Many weren’t raised to feel comfortable with who they are, let alone feel a sense of love towards themselves. When discussing this subject with people, there is often a sense of discomfort. Fear flits across their face. An awkwardness enters the conversation. And usually the topic quickly gets changed.
Throughout my career as a Wellness professional, I’ve seen the need for improved self esteem, confidence, and self-love in many of my clients. So why aren’t we talking about it?
I believe that it’s the one thing many of us are here to learn. To truly love ourselves. This is the common thread for so many people whom I have worked with over the past 30 years. And it’s one of the biggest factors that prevents them from healing their own lives.
So why do we cling so tightly to our choice to not love ourselves? Why does the declaration of love for one’s self seem taboo? For each person, there are different reasons. Family environment, social surroundings, economic status, gender, race, religion can all play a role.
Still, I feel there is a greater problem at play here beyond our personal environment. It’s the problem is that not loving ourselves has actually served us in some way. At some point in our lives, it became easier to go with the flow of lowering our self esteem. It feels safer to comply than to rebuke what the world around has implied is our reality. Even when that’s not true. In an attempt to protect us from the outside world’s opinions, we became part of the problem. And so, many go on feeling unworthy because, in some way, that has been what they were told they were. And then those messages became our beliefs about ourselves.
Here is some of the misconstrued thinking I have heard over the years;
“I don’t deserve to love myself.”
“A good person loves others first.”
“We should put others before ourselves.”
“We must please those around us, or risk ridicule and judgement.”
“I’d rather not rock the boat.”
“It’s easier to continue to hurt myself than to allow the world to hurt me anymore.”
These words are heartbreaking, yet I can relate because I used to believe some of these things too! But beliefs can be changed. I have since turned those false beliefs around and I am no longer afraid to love myself. It might be a long, slow road to accept and eventually learn to love one’s self. But, if I can do this then you can too.
It’s time to stop beating yourself up. Time to learn ways to accept and honor yourself. Learning to love ourselves is not an overnight job. A few years worth of effort may have to go in to reverse the damages done. And even then, some of the emotional baggage may still be carried with you. Yet, there is hope. You can learn to change how you feel about yourself. To see yourself as worthy, and lovable, and as enough just as you are.
We have been fed a lie by the world around us that we are less than whole. The first step is to acknowledge this. Then we can start to look for small ways to start bringing in practices to improve the way we feel about ourselves.Learning to care for your body, mind and spirit with nurturing movement, a healthy diet, self compassion and self forgiveness, are the best places to start. Keep things simple and choose gentle changes at first. Start with the suggestions below, and work with them for a while. Notice how they begin to shift the way you feel towards yourself over time.
Take a moment. Take sacred time for yourself every day. Numerous times. Each morning, pause in the shower or bath, close your eyes and take a few slow breaths. Tell yourself that these few moments are for you only. There is no rush, you are worth this 30 seconds to pause and breath some kindness into your body. Assure yourself that even if you don’t know how yet, you are willing to feel loving thoughts toward yourself. - This is a very slow starting place, but it can be effective over time. Keep gifting yourself these few moments each day for as long as it takes until you begin to notice that you start to look forward to this sacred time of yours. Increase these moments over time and begin to bring them in more places throughout your day. At bedtime, during a lunch break, mid-afternoon. This practice can be very subtle yet powerful.
Massage your skin with oil. The art of touch is a very powerful tool for shifting how we feel towards our bodies. We can learn to forgive the body for its perceived faults and imperfections. For seemingly letting us down and not being the perfect image of what we thought it should be. And we can connect to the body to bring in healing and improve self confidence.
Choose an organic oil like sunflower seed oil, olive oil, or coconut oil. After you bathe or shower is an opportune time to massage your body. If you feel awkward about giving your whole body a rub down, then simply start with the hands and the feet. Lay out an old towel that you don’t mind getting a little oil stained. Don’t use your good towels. Sit somewhere comfortably - perhaps on a folded towel. Pour a small amount of the oil into your palms and rub the oil between the palms to warm it. You can add a little more oil later as you need it. Begin to gently rub the oil onto the feet or the hands. Use a soft touch to begin, and massage all the fingers and toes. Move on to gently wring the hands (or feet) with a firm squeezing action. Work to your comfort level with this. You may wish to close your eyes and soften your breath. With the eyes closed simply notice how this feels. If you are comfortable with your massage you may choose to move up to the wrist or the ankles, then even further up the limbs. Work up the body as far as you feel comfortable. Make sure not to rush your massage.
Devote time for this at least a few times per week. You can eventually increase to a daily morning and evening massage. This will also help you connect more deeply with your body. As your massage evolves, you can begin to tell your body kind things and thank it for all your body does for you each day. Breathing, pumping blood to your heart and so on. Forgive your body - or better yet, you can ask your body to forgive you for any harm you may have caused it in the past.Send some loving kindness into the cells and tissues of your body. And watch how this changes your feelings toward yourself over time. Self massage can be a deeply self loving method for healing emotion and pain.
Say, “Hello” to your mirror. How often have you looked in the mirror and cringed or criticized the face looking back at you? Probably many, if not hundreds of times. Looking at our own face in the mirror is sometimes tough. Certainly most of us are not taught to look with love into the image staring back at us. This may be a difficult practice to begin, and yet this is a powerful way to open a more loving dialogue with ourselves.
You can use your bathroom mirror or a compact handheld one if you like. Begin by looking at your own eyes. Try to hold your own gaze for a count of 10. While you do this, offer a soft smile to yourself. Breathe. For some people this can be incredibly tough, so hang in there. This is big work. Next, while still looking into your eyes, say these words to yourself, “Hello, (your name). I am willing to love you.” You may need many attempts over a few days or even weeks before you feel comfortable enough to move deeper into conversation with your mirror self.
When you feel ready, offer these words to yourself, “ I love you, I really, really love you.” Again, this may be very difficult, yet the effort over time is worth the payoff. As you become more comfortable with this exercise you may notice how it positively affects your self esteem and confidence.
Healthy Eating. This one may seem obvious, yet time and time again, I have come across people who haven’t realized the connection between how they feel mentally, emotionally and physically to what they are eating. Cleaning up our diet by removing excess sugar, fats and processed foods can have a rewarding effect on our overall health and mental well being. This plays out in how we feel in so many ways. From the common feelings of guilt for overeating, eating junk food and beverages, to the mood swings related to a sugar crash, or the anxiety connected with too much caffeine use. When we begin to cut back or eliminate unhealthy substances, we actually improve our mood. And our emotional state will shift as a result of stepping out of the self guilt cycle that many feel after choosing to eat junk that we know is not good for us.
Beyond consciously choosing to eat unhealthy foods and then feel bad about it, there are also chemical effects on our physiology occurring that you might not be conscious of. These side-effects can be detrimental. They stand in the way of our capacity to feel love towards ourselves by making us feel more lethargic, cranky and less patient. Combat these food-related cycles by adding in more healthy foods. Eat your veggies! Shift to bigger portions of vegetables and fruits, leaving less room on your plate for the other stuff. An increase of real fruit and vegetables into your diet, not canned, processed, or packaged ones, will boost your vitamin, mineral and fiber intake. Which improves your body’s ability to manage the hormones that affect your moods. This is a win, win situation. Not only can your body, then function better physically, your mood also improves too. It’s easier to feel good about ourselves when we are in a more positive mood.
Hold these practices close and keep them to yourself in the beginning. Think of your process as fragile and delicate. Be kind and gentle. Practice them consistently. And, over time, you can begin to move toward accepting yourself more and eventually liking parts of yourself, and then loving yourself again.