Here’s an idea for a very special present this festive season:
Give yourself the Gift of Love – that’s it – Give LOVE TO YOURSELF.
Whatever else you might have or acquire, this could be the most precious gift to open – and yet it won’t cost you anything.
It’s sad to see, as I talk with clients, how many people have struggled to bestow this gift of simple self-love upon themselves.
To love yourself is to be very kind and forgiving towards yourself, to truly enjoy BEING you; to thank and congratulate yourself; to nurture and respect yourself, to feel grateful for the person that you are.
It’s speaking to yourself gently and encouragingly; believing in yourself and believing you deserve the best (whatever that is for you) that life has to offer.
When I suggest to people that maybe they could love themselves more, there is often immediate resistance:
‘I’m not ready for that yet’.
‘But I don’t even like myself’.
'It’s not an idea that feels comfortable’.
‘There doesn’t seem much to love’.
'I don't know how to'.
Some people do mistakenly think that to love yourself is somehow selfish, egocentric or conceited, as if there is more virtue in putting themselves down or denying themselves.
In reality the opposite is true – we owe it both to ourselves and others to be the best version of ourselves, and when we are sustained by a deep inner love, self-respect and gratitude for who we are, then we are developing within ourselves the resources to love, respect and nourish those around us.
When we love ourselves then we encourage ourselves – to move forward and improve, to enjoy each precious moment of life, to appreciate the body-mind that we inhabit, to see the value of the contribution we can make to other people and the world around us.
So how can we begin to love ourselves – or to love ourselves more?
1. We can be our own closest friend
Sometimes in therapy I’ll ask a client to imagine for a moment that they are sitting next to themselves. Imagine, sitting next to you is your very best friend, and yet it’s you. As a friend, what would you say to yourself - how would you treat that closest, dearest friend? What would you say to reassure, comfort and encourage your friend? What might you praise them for? How might you appreciate them? If your friend was feeling down, critical of their physical appearance, labelling themselves a failure or an idiot – how would you respond? The friendship that you offer to other people is what YOU deserve from yourself.
2. Bring your positive qualities to mind
Take a few moments to sit down with a pen and a notebook and list all the positive aspects of yourself, without allowing any critical or negative items to muscle their way onto the list.
If you find it hard to get started try just the smallest things first. Once your mind moves towards being more positive other positives will follow more easily (clients will often start with something like ‘well I suppose I have nice fingernails...’ but end up with a long list of special qualities (‘I think I’m a kind person...I was very good at art in the past...I’ve helped a lot of people in my job..people say I prepare nice food..I have a good sense of humour..). Persevere with this, most people eventually end up with a very long list and are pleasantly surprised.
3. Smile at yourself in the mirror!
Smiling in itself brings a huge range of benefits to the body, triggering the release of feel-good body chemicals which can actually alter our mood even if we didn’t feel like smiling in the first place. It’s always worth ‘putting a smile on your face’, making sure the smile reaches your eyes – if the creases in the corners of your eyes crinkle you trigger a lift in your mood. If you then smile at yourself in the mirror the neurons (nerve cells) in your brain behave in many ways as if a close friend has just smiled at you
4. Practice positive self-talk
Talk to yourself and about yourself only in positive ways. Drop the negative, repetitive ‘I’m hopeless, I’m so stupid’, ‘I’m not clever’, ‘Other people have more luck than me’, ‘I’m no good at...’, ‘I’ll never be...’, ‘I’ll never have...’ All these negative phrases can run in the background of our minds, and litter our conversations, continually reinforcing these ideas and turning them into stronger and stronger beliefs. To begin to build new beliefs about ourselves we need to be creating positive thoughts, both inwardly in how we talk to ourselves, and outwardly in how we present ourselves to others.
5. Use an affirmation
People often scoff at affirmations but used properly they do work. Our brains believe what they repeatedly hear (something advertisers love to exploit), and we can use this brain quality to change our beliefs.
The secret is to pick realistic affirmations to move you forward. If you feel strongly that you don’t love yourself just yet, then trying to convince your brain by saying ‘I love myself’ might be too much to ask. But if you start with ‘I am loving/liking myself more each day’ then, together with the other practices in this blog, your brain is more likely to accept this as truth, and bit by bit you’ll find yourself naturally doing the things that promote self-love because doing this is becoming more and more natural for you.
Once you have chosen your affirmation repeat it frequently throughout the day for at least three weeks, preferably longer. Hearing things over and over again is how new thinking habits are formed.
6. Remind yourself frequently
Make yourself some little stickers to prompt positive thoughts and actions towards yourself. Place them where you will notice them as you go about your everyday life – loving and respecting yourself is an all-day thing, not just for odd moments. Write ‘+ve about ME’, or some other phrase you can relate to, and then place stickers on your computer screen, cooker, fridge door, mirror – anywhere where your glance can fall, and you can smile to yourself and return your internal state to one of peace, love and respect towards yourself.
It’s never too late to start
If you are someone who finds it difficult to love yourself, or if you can slip too quickly into low self-confidence and self-blame, then starting to love yourself is the most emancipating change you can make. You can begin to make this change at any time in your life – it’s a gift waiting to be unwrapped, explored, developed and cherished.