The first time I realized that I didn’t love myself enough was when my ex-husband left suddenly. I felt shocked, devastated, and unsure of my reason for existing.
Until that point, I thought I loved myself. My friends would tell you that I am outgoing, gregarious, and a daredevil plus tomboy rolled into one. All of this is true, but besides the point. These are my personality traits, not how I feel about myself.
Growing up, I was raised by a violent, malignant, narcissistic father and a co-dependent, covert narcissistic mother (read my story here if you’re interested). The only sure way to get a respite from my father’s tirade is to bring home something he can boast about – good grades, sports trophies, etc. I didn’t know it then, but I internalized my value as coming from outside of me; I am not intrinsically lovable, but if I achieved something amazing, then I earned value and deserve safety.
This is a dangerous mindset. It turned me into an adult that is hyper-focused on accomplishments. Good enough is not good enough – I have to be the best because everything else is not safe, but the brief sense of safety was temporary, so I had to do more to feel OK again.
I was a treadmill that kept going faster and faster, and I was exhausted.
In a materialistic world, it is easy to equate having more on the outside with self-love. However, the two have nothing to do with each other.
Whether we love ourselves or not becomes apparent when the outside stuff falls apart, which it always does. People leave or they die, we retire from the big job, and illness and old age inevitably befall us all.
“Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” ― Rumi
So, how do we love ourselves? We hear about the importance of self-love, but we rarely get advice on how to get there. Below are four simple strategies that worked for me.
Learning how to love ourselves is a never-ending journey. The more we love ourselves, the more love we have to share with others, and the less likely we are to become victims of abuse or bullying.
1. Be Our Own Best Friend
“I may be alone, but I am never lonely. I am always with my best friend, and that is me.” ― Debasish Mridha
If we had caretakers that put us down, we often grow up to be adults that put ourselves down. We hold limiting beliefs about ourselves that we are defective, not good enough. The negative self-talk comes from this limiting belief and reinforces it.
Step one to self-love is to catch our negative self-talk, and without making a big fuss out of it, replace it with what we would tell a best friend instead.
For example, if we knocked over a cup of coffee, instead of calling ourselves “a useless klutz that can never do anything right,” replace it with “it’s not a big deal, accidents happen.” and see how that feels.
By monitoring and adjusting our self-talk, we can, over time, replace limiting beliefs with constructive, positive beliefs about ourselves. If you want to learn more, see my article on changing limiting beliefs.
2. Establish and Maintain Boundaries
“No is a complete sentence.” ― Anne Lamont
In abusive families, caretakers often exert controls by not allowing us to have boundaries – they ignore our boundaries or punish us for setting them. If we grew up this way, we have to learn how to set healthy boundaries.
Boundaries define us. They declare what is me and what is not me. Having good boundaries means we understand and value who we are, and we are willing to stand up for ourselves.
We enforce boundaries through words and actions, with actions being the most critical part.
3. Act As If
“You must be the person you have never had the courage to be. Gradually, you will discover that you are that person, but until you can see this clearly, you must pretend and invent.” ― Paulo Coelho
When we value ourselves, we naturally behave respectably and confidently. We honor commitments, act with integrity and are considerate towards others. We protect ourselves by setting boundaries and enforcing them.
A short cut to loving ourselves more is to “act as if” by modeling an individual we admire that exhibits a healthy sense of self-worth. Ask, “What would this person do in my situation?” and act accordingly.
When we behave in a high-value manner, whether or not we feel it, people will respond accordingly. They see only what we show them. If they see us acting with high self-worth, that is how they will respond to us. When we experience others treating us as a self-loving person, we are likely to develop more love for ourselves, and the positive cycle continues.
4. We Are Lovable Because We Exist
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ― Buddha
Lastly, but most importantly, our lovability is inherent and not dependent on anything outside of ourselves. This idea may seem abstract until you consider the people and animals you love most, and you will see the truth for yourself.
I love my cat, unconditionally. My cat can’t do anything for me other than be herself, but that is enough.
We are always enough, and we are lovable, exactly as we are. This simple truth, when internalized, will set us free.
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My name is Yumay Chang, and I run Life Is Love School, a global support group for childhood trauma survivors. I had a challenging childhood, and I know what it’s like to feel not good enough and not lovable. I learned through over two decades of research and plenty of trial and error how to heal so I can live a life of joy, love, and purpose. Now I help women that are successful at work but are unfulfilled in their personal lives do the same so they can also shine their brightest.
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