Stop Beating Yourself Up! Practice Self-Love Instead


I used to hate the idea of self-love. In my 20s, I remember my face burning with shame when people directed their eyes my way. I would panic and exclaim out loud, “Don’t look at me!”

When I met my husband, I remember the first time he gazed into my eyes with love. I felt deep shame. But he smiled with such kindness I let him gaze anyway.

There were two opposing forces: me and my self-loathing vs. him and his love for me. Here I am 35 years later, and it’s only been in the last few years I have begun to experience genuine self-love. I moved from longing for it to pursuing it. And that has made all the difference.

I had no idea that kind of shift was possible, nor did I realize how profoundly it would change the way I care for myself.

Before I could make the shift, I had to look honestly at what I was thinking, feeling, believing, and doing to express my loathing to myself.

Over the course of my life, beating myself up had become an art form. I said horrible things to myself as a matter of course. I’d think things like, “My legs are like tree trunks,” and “I eat like a pig,” and “I look dumpy.” I’d tell myself, “No one cares,” and “I’m an idiot,” and “I’m too corny.”

When I considered trying to love myself, I got tripped up by all the jargon. I hated jargon, like the terms mindfulness, body positivity, self-awareness, self-compassion…and self-love.

Self-love was nearly impossible for me to envision for myself. I’d think, sarcastically, even angrily, “You can’t force love.” I believed that was the grim truth.

Still, I longed for self-love, even if I really didn’t believe in it.

Now I know it is possible to move from self-loathing to self-love. In my case, the key was to define self-love for myself – in living color and in great detail. I needed to make the concept my own.

After much contemplation, I came to understand that, for me, self-love is unconditional, positive, warm regard. It’s extreme kindness. It’s me fussing over myself. It’s me listening to myself intently and responding with concern.

I also came to understand that, for me, self-love is something that must be earned. I had been beating myself up for so long that I didn’t trust myself at all. This meant I had to prove to myself that I would be there for myself every time, without judgment. And to learn to trust like that, I needed to practice.

What do I mean by practice?

Well, according to Google, practice is, “The actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it.”

Actual application…as opposed to theories.

I didn’t just decide to love myself. Instead, I took a first step, which was to practice being extremely kind to myself.

Specifically, when I sat down, I asked myself (silently), “Are you comfortable? Do you need to adjust your position? Do you need a pillow or a blanket? Do you want a footstool?”

I questioned myself and adjusted until I felt just right.

When I woke up, I asked myself, “How did you sleep? Would you like to stretch? Would you like your shoulders massaged?”

After work, I paused and asked myself, “How was your day? Did anything happen you want to talk about? Do you feel like putting your feet up for a few minutes before making dinner? Do you need help with anything?”

At mealtimes, I asked myself, “What can you prepare that you will love, and that, when you eat it, will make your body feel good? Is it the right temperature? Do you feel satisfied? Would you like to do the dishes now, so you don’t have to do them later when you’re too tired?”

When I looked in the mirror, I said, “I hear you when you say you don’t like your small eyes, yet I see kindness in them. They sparkle when you are having fun. These are the eyes Mike gazes into with love.”

In this way, I began to earn my own trust and realize a deep love that came from inside myself.

In the words of Charles Eisenstein, “Be with yourself, be with yourself, be with yourself.” And I add, “Practice, practice, practice.”

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