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Loving Yourself

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Codependency » Featured Article

By Julie A. Levin, MA, MFT

Julie A. Levin, MA, MFT

There is a lot of talk about self love. But if you don't feel it, the words have no meaning. And if you've been judging or blaming yourself for not being enough or being too much, then the idea of loving yourself might even seem wrong.

Yet, self love is an essential part of having a good life. When you feel friendly, kind, appreciative and tender toward yourself, you have a buffer against depression, anxiety, trauma, rejection, loss, and bad relationships. I often tell clients, "You are the roommate who will never leave." Do you really want to spend the whole rest of your life - all day, every day - with someone who isn't good to you?

Imagine having a friend who really gets you - shares your sense of humor, your taste and style, is always on your side, doesn't mind your snoring or your morning breath, will watch your favorite show as many times as you want... If you lived with this person, how might your life look? When someone was a jerk to you, what would your friend say? When you got sick, how would they take care of you? When you were considering a second date with a guy/girl who was kind of self-absorbed, what would they want for you? This, plus a thousand other little things, is what it's like to love yourself.

Maybe you've been given the message that putting your needs first or really liking yourself is narcissistic, self-centered, or that you don't deserve to feel good about yourself. To this, I would encourage you to say, "If loving me is wrong, I don't want to be right." Loving yourself doesn't mean you become arrogant or selfish. But it might mean that you become true to yourself, that you honor your own needs and feelings, even if that means dissapointing others.

There is a risk that really loving, honoring and respecting yourself will make others uncomfortable. In my experience, the risk is so worth it. People who become critical or rejecting were never really able to sustain a relationship that was mutual. I was there to serve them in some way. Letting go of these relationships provides great relief in the long run, even though there may be grief in the short term.

Loving yourself is more than just a decision. It's a series of actions that, when repeated over time, feel so good, you can't help but fall in love with yourself. While the process is a little different for each person, here are some common changes you could consider.

  1. Notice anything mean, harsh or critical you say to yourself. See if you can identify a fear beneath the criticism. For example, the criticism that you are not attractive enough often comes out of a fear of rejection. Practice telling yourself that your appearance is just fine. You will actively seek out friends who love you just the way you are. And anyone who judges you is really just showing you that they are not the kind of safe, trustworthy friend you really want. Repeat this whenever self-criticism comes up.

  2. Practice saying "no" to anything that feels wrong for you. Start small and be strategic. Don't quit your lousy job until you have another source of income. But do say "no" to big, loud parties if you're an introvert or your neighbor's son's poetry slam if that kind of thing makes you miserable. Notice how the people in your life deal with disappointment. The ones who try to make you feel bad or guilty may not be people you want to invest a lot of time in. The ones who can manage their disappointment and love you anyway are more likely to be your core people.

  3. Be gentle with your body. Listen for signals like hunger, thirst, tiredness, antsy-ness, etc. When you feel hungry, eat. When you feel tired, rest. When you are antsy, go for a walk or dance to your favorite music. Most of us have been trained to ignore our most basic physical needs. Retrain yourself to honor your body.

As you can imagine, shifting toward self love is not easy. It comes with risks. It often goes against the socializing training we received in childhood. You may even have memories of being punished for voicing your needs as a kid. Who of us wasn't shamed in elementary school because we needed to pee before recess?

Having a therapist who can help you identify and transform critical and unloving thoughts and behaviors might be essential. It can be hard to even recognize when we are mean to ourselves if this behavior just feels normal. It's also really helpful to have an ally if you've experienced any kind of abuse - physical or emotional - or if you had a parent with addiction or a personality disorder. In these situations, self love and self care can actually feel dangerous. Having the help of a skilled therapist will allow you to assess any possible danger and to take small, slow steps that feel safe and do-able.

Imagine if everyone in the world had the freedom to be honest and real about their feelings and needs. Imagine if each of us really knew how to be kind and gentle with ourselves. There would be no more need for manipulation, control, intimidation or force. If you want to create a more peaceful planet, then loving yourself is really becoming the change you wish to see in the world.

About the Author...

Julie Levin is a psychotherapist in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also serves adult clients and couples throughout California via e-therapy (secured video). Her specialties include co-dependency, self-esteem and recovery from childhood emotional abuse and neglect.

Last Update: 7/24/2016

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