I wish I could hear the collective groans in response to this title. But like it or not, you need to figure out how to love yourself sometimes. Your psychological well being actually depends on this skill, and the good news is: you’re already practicing it.
Now, loving yourself is not the same as liking yourself - do you truly like all of your loved ones 100% of the time? No, and yet you still love them. Loving yourself involves acknowledging your shortcomings and caring for yourself anyway, just like you would with a close friend. The first step in becoming more loving and compassionate toward yourself is to acknowledge how freaking hard this is! Most people find their brains are well-practiced and routined at providing self criticism. When challenged to say something kind to ourselves, people usually feel at best a fraud and at worst undeserving (ouch). We’re also working uphill against evolution on this one. The answer? We need teachers in order to start learning how to do this.
Figure out where the gaps in your self-love occur. Using this Self Compassion Scale with yourself or your therapist, you can start to track themes in how you respond to yourself. You may find your inner criticism is very word-based, manifesting as unkind thought patterns. Or maybe you are being unkind to yourself through actions like skipping a meal or saying “no” to yourself when you need rest. The other benefit to using this scale is that you can track areas where you might be practicing self-compassion already. Going to therapy is showing yourself kindness - talking about how you feel and even noticing your body’s sensations can also be an act of self-care. And if you are reading this LGC newsletter, chances are you’ve already done both of these. Celebrate and be curious about where you learned these caring messages in life. Who were your teachers? More on teachers in Step 3.
Start small and build off of what you’ve already got. No one truly falls in love with themselves and stays in this love forever - being compassionate with yourself is a life-long practice, and it’s not something you can ever become perfect at. For instance, if you mess something up at work and beat yourself up about it, it’s not realistic to start with the goal of preventing this pattern altogether. Instead, think about how compassion can be a force that intervenes at any point of this pattern no matter how far into the self-hating spiral you fall. Sometimes the most compassionate thing you can say to yourself is, “I’m so sorry I just said that to you” after your inner critic has let loose with what it thinks about you. A goal to work on is the ACT concept of defusion; this is the skill of creating internal distance between you and your inner critic. There are a number of ways to do it, my favorite is to make silly songs out of my unkind thoughts, and sometimes sing them aloud. Full disclosure: I stole this technique from the TV show “Crazy Ex Girlfriend.”
Look for examples of kindness and use these as your teachers. Another step toward being more kind to yourself is surrounding yourself with teachers. The only way people get better at this is if other people show them how. Some of my teachers have been Fred Rogers, Alok Vaid-Menon, Dolly Parton, Sadhguru, Baba Ram Dass and people in my personal life that have shown me radical kindness at times I felt undeserving of it. Watching videos of these teachers also gives you access to their embodiment; seeing compassion demonstrated through their soft voice, attuned eye contact and calm posturing releases Oxytocin in the human brain, thereby activating the caring system. If I’m having a “you shouldn’t feel that way” kind of day inside my head, I like to YouTube some of my favorite movie scenes in which people, usually parents, demonstrate boundless compassion and support for the child character. Speeches that come to mind include Elio’s dad discussing heartbreak in Call Me By Your Name and Kayla’s dad expressing his love for her in Eighth Grade.
Get to know your inner critic, initiate small acts of kindness toward yourself and look for teachers to guide you. “Love and coercion can never go together: but though love cannot be forced on anyone, it can be awakened in him through love itself. Love is essentially self-communicative: Those who do not have it catch it from those who have it. True love is unconquerable and irresistible; and it goes on gathering power and spreading itself, until eventually it transforms everyone whom it touches.” - Baba Ram Dass
Hillary Brown, LICSW / Fellow imperfect human is an adaptive and playful therapist interested in helping her clients improve their interpersonal relationships as well as their relationship with themself. Hillary is unapologetically fat-friendly, LGBTQ+ affirming, and committed to noticing the systemic stressors of our world that can exacerbate mental health symptoms. Together with her client, Hillary detects what changes can be made within them and around them, while fostering resiliency and hope during times of disempowerment in oppression. Hillary believes that priorities do not have to be competing with one another and instead can find a harmonious balance through boundaries, awareness-building and self-compassion.