I have always been curious about what "loving yourself" actually means and why you can't love anybody else fully until you love yourself. So I thought I might share what I have learned.
There are many definitions within the literature on the word love, however, I do like the definition give by Dr Katherine E James: "Love is an authentic acceptance and valuing of a person in the moment without demand of otherness." Meaning, we accept everything about ourselves, unconditionally. But this can be easier said than done right?
The first step in this process is dealing with our "inner critic". You know that little voice inside your head that judges you, doubts you, and generally pulls you down. The one tells you that you that you "should do" this, "shouldn't have done that", are too overweight, not intelligent enough, not attractive enough, won't get the job, people won't like you and on and on it goes.
Imagine saying these things repeatedly to a child or a friend? What would you expect? Why then do we do it to ourselves?
Essentially, our inner critic is known as negative self-talk and it is harmful and can be detrimental. It can inhibit us from moving forward, achieving what we dream of achieving, and prevent us truly living a fulfilled, productive and purposeful life.
Where does it come from? The way in which we view and feel about ourselves is influenced by important people in our lives such as our primary caretaker/s, family members, friends, teachers and broader society. For example, as we are growing up, what these people think about us, how they see and treat themselves, their attitudes directed toward us and how they react to us when they are stressed or overwhelmed is internalised by us. This results in how we see ourselves. This also influences the way that we view ourselves and other people throughout our life as adults.
As adults these concepts about ourselves are what inhibit us so much. The good news is that we can take back control of how we see ourselves by understanding where the inner critic comes from, understanding that the voice of the inner critic is untrue and changing our thoughts about who we are.
Firstly, notice your inner critic by slowing down and noticing when the inner critic comes up in your thoughts. Your emotions (those things we have been given for survival) are a good indicator of when the inner critic is at work. For example, emotions of doubt, guilt, shame, and worthlessness are signs of the inner critic. Try to notice your inner critic and write down what was happening when it arose and what it said. Think back..... where did this thinking about yourself come from? Is it something that was told to you or was it something that somebody important in your life thought about themselves.
Secondly, understand that the inner critic is not part of you. It is something that has been internalised by yourself due to the thoughts and behaviours of others. This has nothing to do with who you actually are. The inner critic is the "opinions" of others. How do they know who you are if they are not you?
Thirdly, tell your inner critic to get lost or, tell it that you have heard its opinion, however, you do not agree with it. What is the point in wasting your time listening to the false opinion of others? Why waste your time in unproductive activity.
Finally, tell your inner critic your truth. Stand up for yourself. What are your good points? Why is your inner critic a liar? For example, if your inner critic is telling you that you should not have eaten that extra donut because you are overweight and unattractive. Instead of believing it and feeling awful, take control and tell it, I had a choice to eat that extra donut and, as an adult, am able to make my own choices. I chose to eat that extra donut and thoroughly enjoyed it. I am happy with my decision. I may be overweight right now but I have a choice to change that. Being overweight does not mean that I am unattractive. There are many qualities about me that are attractive too.