Lucille Ball has been quoted as saying, “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”
How you feel about this statement will depend on where you are in your life. If you are flying high right now and things are going well, this quote probably motivates you and empowers you. But if you have been struggling and are down on yourself, this quote may feel like another insurmountable obstacle. It’s one more reminder that you will never be able to get anything accomplished. If that’s the way you feel, then it’s time to learn to love yourself.
What does it mean to love yourself?
We know what it means to love others, but many of us struggle to understand what it means to love ourselves. Luckily, the experts have us covered. I reached out to trained professionals to find out how they would describe what it means to love yourself truly.
Justin Lioi, a men’s mental health and relationship expert and licensed clinical social worker, explained it this way via email: “Learning how to love yourself is connected specifically to learning to accept yourself as you are: all the parts, even the ones you don’t like and want to change.” This was pretty much the consensus among all of the experts I contacted. While the wording of their responses varied, the overall message was the same. Loving yourself means learning to accept yourself, all of you, and have peace with who you are - faults and all.
John Amodeo, Ph.D., a certified marriage and family therapist and the author of Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships, described it this way via email: “Self-love means finding peace within ourselves - resting comfortably within the depths of our being. We might find temporary respite by doing something to nurture ourselves. But a deeper inner peace requires cultivating a certain way of being with ourselves - a warm and nurturing attitude toward what we experience inside.”
Doesn’t that sound great? Who wouldn’t want to live “resting comfortably” in who they are? If only it were as easy as wishing.
Why do we struggle to love ourselves?
If we want to love ourselves and we know that it’s good for us, why do we struggle so much? Psychologist Patricia O’Gorman, Ph.D., author of The Girly Thoughts 10-Day Detox, says it is because we struggle to understand what self-love means. She shared this thought via email: “As a society, we are confused as to what self-love is. As a result, we don’t have a cultural place for self-love. Self-love is often confused with selfishness and narcissism. When in fact, it encompasses none of this.”
Another reason that I believe we struggle to love ourselves is because we are always comparing ourselves to others. Social media allows people to paint their lives any way they want. When you scroll through your social-media feed, it looks like your friends and family are living the perfect lives. No one shares their lowest moments for others to see on social media. So when you know your deepest and darkest struggles, and then you compare them with the highlight reel of someone else’s life, you are never going to measure up. It’s no wonder why many people who spend a lot of time on social media have low self-esteem.
Practical steps to start loving yourself
I have some good news for you: You don’t have to keep struggling. You can learn to love yourself and be emotionally stable. Self-love isn’t something that you either have or don’t have. Anyone can improve their level of self-love. Here are some tips to get you started.
Stop comparing yourself to others and focus on your good qualities
Being in the habit of comparing yourself to others is one of the biggest traps of low self-esteem. Longtime life coach Maria Salomão-Schmidt said via email, “The good news is that self-love is simply a matter of focus. Everything has both ‘gift’ and ‘curse’ aspects…Whichever you focus on determines the quality of your life. Most people focus on the ‘curse’ parts of themselves…what’s wrong with themselves. This disables the self-love, and thus happiness… because happiness is a by-product of living from that connective state.”
Instead of focusing on how you stack up against everyone else, start focusing on your positive qualities. This can feel awkward at first if you are not used to complimenting yourself. It is not arrogant or conceited to acknowledge that there are things you do well. Doing so is healthy. And the more you start to focus on your good qualities, the easier it will become for you to find them.
Show yourself a little compassion
Lioi also said, “You need to first accept that you aren’t ‘broken.’ Once we can get out of the self-judgment and the punishment and self-criticism that so many of us live with, we can develop further into the people we want to be… So, how do you do this? You develop self-compassion instead of self-criticism.”
There are going to be things that you fail at in life or screw up. That’s part of life. When this happens, it doesn’t make you a failure or mean that you cannot succeed at anything. It just means you are human. Instead of getting down on yourself when this happens, practice showing yourself compassion. Think about what you would say to a friend who was going through the same thing you are. How would you treat them? Chances are you would be comforting and compassionate and try to help build them back up. Do the same thing for yourself. Focus on progress, not perfection.
Carefully choose your company
It’s going to be hard to love yourself if you spend time with negative people who point out all of your faults and bring you down. Often these people behave this way because they themselves are hurting, but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it. Choose to spend time with people that build you up and breathe life into you.
You don’t have to get it all right all the time to love yourself. If you haven’t been loving yourself, learning to love yourself can feel difficult. If you are struggling and aren’t meeting with a mental-health professional, take a proactive step to get the help you need. There is never shame in getting professional help to improve your life. Don’t give up - you are worth it.
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Mike Veny is one of America’s leading mental health speakers and a high energy corporate drumming event facilitator. He delivers educational, engaging, and entertaining presentations to meetings and conferences throughout the world. As a 2017 PM360 ELITE Award Winner, Mike was recognized as one of the 100 most influential people in the healthcare industry. He starred in several OC87 Recovery Diaries documentary films. Check out his compelling TEDx talk, Mental Illness is An Asset.