September 21, 2020 • Contributed by Elizabeth Milano
Nine Ways to Enhance Self-Love: Because You Can’t Socially Distance From Yourself
STEP 1: CHALLENGE NEGATIVE SELF-TALK:
It can be very helpful to become aware of your inner critic and actively challenge self-critical thoughts. You can begin this process by just noticing the voice in your head and recognizing that your thoughts are NOT necessarily facts. One way to be intentional about decreasing negative thinking is to set alarms on your phone once or twice daily as a reminder to “Check in with yourself” or in the form of a question, “What am I feeling, sensing, thinking, and doing right now?” The more you encourage your brain to be self-aware in real-time, and challenge negative thoughts as they appear, the more this way of thinking becomes automatic. This helps you learn to automatically respond to yourself with love and kindness.
STEP 2: LIVE AUTHENTICALLY:
Living authentically means being who you are. It means not changing your identity based on context and being the same person at work, with friends, and with your partner. It means not telling lies to others or yourself. This may initially take some exploration. The goal here is to get in tune with what you want, and approve of yourself, rather than seeking out the approval of others. It is also an opportunity to assess whether your work environment, friendships, and romantic relationships are supportive of who you truly are. It’s a chance to step away from aspects of life that are detracting from your ability to comfortably be your true self.
STEP 3: FEEL YOUR FEELINGS
Many of the ways people distract, hide, or “cope” with their feelings end up creating more painful emotions. To avoid emotions people may binge eat, use alcohol or drugs, stay constantly busy, mask their pain with dark humor, overwork, and put the needs of others before their own. If you notice you’re utilizing many of these strategies to disconnect from your feelings, you may want to consider making small changes to help you reconnect to your true emotions. Having fewer drinks per night or decreasing the time spent online can make a big difference. Gradual changes may be more likely to lead to sustained changes and allow you to feel more of your true feelings without becoming overwhelmed (Clear, 2018). This increases your self-awareness and makes it easier to love your true self by meeting your actual needs.
STEP 4: DEFINE YOURSELF BY YOUR CHARACTER- NOT YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS, LOOKS, OR POSSESSIONS
It’s great to be proud of what you’ve achieved or worked hard for, but it can also be useful to acknowledge that this is just a part of who you are. If you have a history of seeking external validation, consider how your amount of self-love might change if you defined yourself by your character and positive personality traits. Making this shift in thinking may lead to increased confidence, more stable self-esteem, and more consistent self-love. Weight fluctuates, layoffs happen, relationships end and sometimes we don’t achieve our personal goals. Life changes but self-love and acceptance don’t have to. When you move away from perfectionism and external validation you move towards happiness, inner peace, and self-acceptance (Brown, 2010).
You need self-love during good times and it is especially important during challenging times. Making this ideological change may also lead to increased resilience. Individuals often bounce back faster from challenges or mistakes if they do not internalize them to mean that they are bad people who are unworthy of love and happiness. Reframing failure as an opportunity to learn and grow can change your entire life.
STEP 5: INCREASE YOUR SELF-COMPASSION
Self-compassion involves how you respond to yourself during life challenges and painful experiences. When you support and love yourself, you can respond in a healthy way to hardships and mistakes. You may more easily take accountability for things you’ve done wrong. You may find it easier to receive and integrate criticism and feedback in a healthy way.
Some people may deliberately avoid self-compassion because they believe that self-criticism is a way to motivate themselves. They may incorrectly believe that being kind to themselves will encourage laziness or stagnation. This is a fallacy. Lack of self-compassion often leads people to feel drained and less motivated towards achieving a goal.
Approaching a goal with the belief that you deserve to achieve it often leads to a higher likelihood of success and a more enjoyable process of accomplishing that goal. Approaching personal goals as achievements you deserve rather than an accomplishment that will somehow make you better also causes you to project more confidence as you work towards achieving your goals. Increased self-confidence may open the door to additional benefits in your relationships and career. In this way, self-love encourages achievement – not the other way around.
STEP 6: FORGIVE YOURSELF
Forgiving yourself for past mistakes involves letting go of inwardly directed anger and resentment. Neglecting to forgive yourself may lead to viewing yourself as a bad person and a belief that you are deserving of punishment. It can also block self-compassion and encourage negative thinking. Your belief about whether you are a bad person or a good person can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Thinking you’re a bad person often impacts your expectations from yourself and may lead you to take actions that you consider morally bad behavior. This creates a vicious cycle of negative self-talk, blaming & self-sabotage. Forgiving yourself for your mistakes allows you to more easily see yourself as a good person. When you view yourself as a good person, your behavior often becomes better and fosters feelings of self-love (Clear, 2018). If you identify a past relationship as an area where you are struggling to forgive yourself, you may find yourself seeking “closure.” This search for closure can often stem from a need for external validation- or for another person to tell you that who you are, or what you did, is ok. In this way, you are seeking love, forgiveness, and acceptance from an outside source, rather than yourself. If you are seeking closure from someone else, it may be useful to look within and ask what actions you can take to achieve closure and peace for yourself.
STEP 7: DEVELOP SELF-TRUST & STABILITY
If you’re lacking in self-trust and consistency it may be helpful to start with small goals and develop a consistent routine. Setting realistic expectations may help you to follow through and achieve what you aspire to. This is also an opportunity to implement healthy habits that are supportive of your mental wellbeing, for example; exercise, consistent sleep practices, meditation, and self-care activities.
Accomplishing small goals causes your brain to release positive chemicals that make you feel happier (Clear, 2018). This positive change in neurochemistry often leads you to naturally think more positively. Creating a more positive environment in your mind makes it much easier to think positively about yourself. During this step, you may have to actively fight the urge to be harsh or punishing towards yourself when you are inconsistent. You may benefit from reminding yourself that cruelty towards yourself will generally lead you further from self-trust and stability. It might help to remind yourself that you deserve stability even if it was not consistently afforded to you throughout your life. In this way, you work towards healing your inner child.
STEP 8: IMPLEMENT INTERPERSONAL BOUNDARIES
Boundaries are limits and rules you set for yourself concerning others. For example; you may set a boundary with your boss by informing her that you don’t respond to emails during non-work hours or by telling your partner that you need some time alone. Without adequate boundaries, it can be difficult to discern what are your thoughts or emotions and what thoughts and feelings you may be absorbing from other people. This may be especially important for innately caring and empathetic people.
Setting boundaries allows you to communicate what you need to others. In this way, boundaries enhance relationships and help others understand what you want, need, and expect from them. Boundaries demonstrate and foster self-respect and self-love. Healthy boundaries allow you time alone to nourish and replenish yourself. Boundaries provide you with time to tend to your own needs.
STEP 9: APPROACH SELF-LOVE AS AN ONGOING PROCESS NOT A DESTINATION
Increasing your self-love is a continuous journey. It is not just important to develop a positive relationship with yourself, it also takes work to maintain it – just like any relationship! You can move towards this goal by consistently checking in with yourself, being aware that your progress likely won’t be linear, and acknowledging that your needs, wants, values, and views may change over time. Learning to enjoy the process of improving your relationship with yourself is important. You are constantly evolving- and your self-love can evolve with you.
Schedule your first session with Elizabeth Milano, Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
- Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent,
and Lead. Gotham Books.
- Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who
You are. Hazelden.
- Clear, J. (2018). Atomic habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones. New York, NY:
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