We often hear that loving oneself is the missing piece when it comes to creating positive change in our lives. When you learn to love yourself first, all sorts of radical changes occur. All very well and good, but exactly how do you love yourself unconditionally when you don’t know how? Here are eight practical things you can do to love yourself, starting right now. Build these practices into your daily life and make loving yourself your ultimate priority.
1. Recognize the world needs your uniqueness
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Dr Suess
There is no one on the planet with the exact blend of experience, character, views, values, talents and skills, as you. You are absolutely unique. This uniqueness is intentional. There is a reason that you are you. We are all born with the ability to fulfil a purpose during our lifetime, to add to the beauty and expansion of the universe. By hiding yourself under a bushel, or bending yourself to the will of others, you are limiting your ability to do what you came here to do – be you! Start being authentic. Stop pleasing others. Step up and be who you really are. You are fabulous and miraculous, just because you are you. When we are in the true energy of our unique selves our lives flow accordingly. We naturally move towards all the people, opportunities, and love that will help us fulfil our purpose and all that we came here to be.
2. Celebrate how wonderful you are!
Make a point, right now, of writing down all the positive things about yourself. Employ the help of someone you trust. Ask them what they like about you. Think about all the times you’ve received compliments – what have people told you? What do you think are your strengths? Every time you look in the mirror notice at least two things you can praise about your face – all too often we’ll look in the mirror and instantly criticize something about our features. Extend this act of positive respect to your body.
Hibbert (2014) writes that we “pay more attention to negative experiences than positive ones” and “[W]e ignore the positive evidence of our beauty and worth”.
Do double the work to distract from negative thoughts about yourself. Just stop it! What you focus on grows. Focus on all the positive things about yourself. Before long you’ll be noticing more and more to be positive about!
3. Embrace your shadow
“Your life will be transformed when you make peace with your shadow. The caterpillar will become a breathtakingly beautiful butterfly. You will no longer have to pretend to be someone you’re not. You will no longer have to prove you’re good enough. When you embrace your shadow you will no longer have to life in fear. Find the gifts of your shadow and you will finally revel in all the glory of your true self. Then you will have the freedom to create the life you have always desired.” Debbie Ford
In her work, ‘The Shadow Effect’ Debbie Ford (www.debbieford.com) brought the message into the mainstream that we must begin to own everything about ourselves; especially that which we find shameful, or we keep hidden from others. Based on the psychodynamic theories of Carl Jung, we need to love and accept the good and the bad in us, or we become riddled with repressed feelings. We project these onto the world outside, creating negative experiences for ourselves. Diamond (2012) writes “[W]hatever we deem evil, inferior or unacceptable and deny in ourselves becomes part of the shadow…”.
Are you someone who is highly esteemed for your patience in the office, but you go home and shout at your partner, or children? Do you have a gym-toned body but sneak cigarettes in moments of anxiety? Whatever you’d hate for people to know about you – that’s your shadow!
Everyone has a shadow side. Recognize your shared humanity. Love yourself by being realistic about who you really are. Accept the rejected parts of yourself. Bring them into the light. Then you can work on them. Release all shame, or guilt. These feelings do not serve you.
Whatever your dark-side is, it was originally there to protect you. Thank your shadow for trying to keep you safe and for the good work its done in getting you to where you are now. Simultaneously, start moving away from your shadow. Tell your shadow, you no longer need its services. You now have more loving ways to protect yourself.
4. Stop criticizing yourself
“Each aspect within us needs understanding and compassion. If we are unwilling to give it to ourselves how can we expect the world to give it to us?” Debbie Ford
You want to become your own best friend. Stop all critical thinking. You are not stupid, dumb, inadequate, hopeless, or any of the other nasty things you tell yourself. You are perfectly, wonderfully you. Stop criticizing others too. Be mindful of any judgments you make. The more critical a person is of others, the more critical they tend to be of themselves. Drop the perfectionism. Learn to flip each negative thought into a positive one. If you are berating yourself, or another, you are not loving yourself unconditionally. Look for the positive instead and start praising! The more you praise yourself the better. Treat yourself compassionately. You are trying your best and you are doing amazingly!
5. Heal old hurts
“There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen
Release old wounds and resentments. Don’t stay stuck in the past. Clearing old “stuff’ will free up space for more love. Very few people had a perfect childhood. Very few people go through life unscathed. Releasing old wounds takes a fearless act of facing them and, sometimes, feeling them all over again. Seek professional support.
The greatest triumph is to stop the cycle of pain that someone, or something, has caused you – take back your life, the life you have always deserved. Work on forgiveness. This does not mean condoning behavior. It means freeing yourself from resentments that keep you stuck. It may take months, or even years, to work on the willingness to forgive another. Just start repeating that you are willing to forgive. Try to bring compassion, and understanding, into the situation. Compassion is a great diffuser. When we bring understanding to our actions, and to the actions of another, it can release some of the built up toxic bile.
6. Forgive Yourself
Do you need to forgive yourself? Much of the time, the person we most need to forgive is ourselves. Resentment harbored against ourselves can attract people, and situations, into our lives that we have unconsciously hired to perpetuate punishment. Do you really deserve more punishment? No! Forgive yourself right now. Forgive yourself for every perceived failing, every wrong decision, every action you didn’t take, every action you regret taking, every time you rejected, or abandoned yourself, every time you did something cruel or unkind (to yourself or another). Forgive yourself for everything. Write a list titled, “If I really loved myself I would…” Fill in the gaps. This will give you some idea of where you are punishing yourself and not allowing certain aspects of life’s abundance.
Write down all the things you forgive yourself for. Write: “I (your name) now forgive myself for… and am willing to let it go”. Look into a mirror. Read your list out loud. Repeat this exercise daily until you feel a shift.
7. Connect with the energy of love
Statistics show that those who believe in some form of loving, and supportive, Higher Power tend to have more resilience and be happier. Look around at nature. You can see how loving and abundant spirit is. Everything grows in a natural order. Observe the variety and beauty. To connect with spiritual energy, spend time focusing on your breath. Margaret Paul (2013) says:
“Love is not a feeling we generate from our mind. It comes from the heart, when our heart is open to our source of love. When you open to learning with your higher power about loving yourself and others, love flows into your heart and you feel loved”.
Live your life with love as your compass. Move towards loving people and away from those who are not. Move towards activities that open your heart, and away from those that don’t. Ask yourself repeatedly, “Is this a loving act? Is it taking me towards love, or away from love?” Release everything that is draining energy and not supporting you and your highest purpose.
8. Care for your mind, body and spirit
What can you do each day to improve your health and make you full of strength and vitality? What can you do to keep your mind calm, positive and focused? What can you do to connect yourself with an infinite source – to connect with your inner being? Ten minutes of meditation, prayer, or positive affirmation daily, will enhance your mind, body and spirit. Include exercise (even just a quick walk, or some stretching, or dancing in your kitchen) regularly. Get your body moving. Look at what you eat and ask yourself whether it nourishes your greatest good, or depletes it. Start making dietary decisions that are life enhancing.
Find your passions and follow them. Indian philosopher, Rabindranath Tagore, wrote “The song I have come to sing/remains unsung to this day/I have spent my life/stringing and unstringing/my instrument.” Don’t let this be you! Find what makes your heart sing and introduce it into your life. For example, you may love animals but have put the idea of being a vet on the top shelf due to money, or any number of (inadequate) reasons. Take action to rectify this. Research online courses, volunteer at an animal rescue centre, take your neighbours dog for a walk. Anything that gets you into alignment with what gives you joy is what you must do. Don’t put it off! Start living the self-loving life you were born to live right now!
Cohen, Leonard. (1992) Anthem, The Future/Ten New Songs
Diamond, Stephen. (2012) Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: What is the “Shadow”? Available at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evil-deeds/201204/essential-secrets-psychotherapy-what-is-the-shadow
The work of Debbie Ford, The Shadow Side, available at:
Hibbert, Christina, Dr. (2014) Discovering Self-Worth: Why is it so hard to love ourselves? Available at: http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/discovering-self-worth-why-is-it-so-hard-to-love-ourselves/
Paul, Margaret. (2013) 9 Ways to Love Yourself. Available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaret-paul-phd/love-yourself_b_4218211.html
Tagore, Rabindranath. Unending Love. Available at http://allpoetry.com/Unending-Love