For many people, it’s easier to love thy neighbor than thyself. It’s easier to show compassion to a friend or even a stranger than to cut yourself a little slack. If you’re someone who expects perfection from yourself, slow down. Ask yourself why you need to be perfect while you’re totally willing to let the rest of the human race have its flaws. Maybe you should be as forgiving with yourself as you are with you neighbor.
If you see yourself as unlovable, then you feel unworthy of being loved by others. Even simple acts of kindness will seem like they can’t possibly be sincere since you didn’t earn them by being perfect. If you are in a constant state of self-criticism, you are perpetually failing at reaching unrealistic expectations. And you probably feel bad about yourself much of the time.
How did you get to be so judgmental and critical of yourself? Often such behavior stems from childhood. Perhaps a parent expected you to reach impossible standards that he never achieved. Or perhaps a parent hovered over you, correcting your every move, making you feel wrong all the time. Whatever the cause, it’s important to silence your critical inner voice and find a way to be kinder to yourself.
When you treat yourself with the kind of understanding that you save for your neighbor, you feel more nurtured and secure. Then you can begin to feel confident enough to risk fulfilling your potential. And then you become more positive about yourself and those around you, creating an environment conducive to loving relationships.
The simple fact is you have to love yourself first before you can let others love you. And before you can love others. While this kind of transformation from self-loathing to self-loving takes a lot of courage and hard work, it is worth your effort. Meanwhile, give yourself a little boost with some acts of kindness to yourself.
Post Positive Reminders. If you are going to change the way you’ve always thought about yourself, you need to be vigilant. It is so easy to slip back into negative self-talk. So post a note on your mirror that you are worthy, that you matter, that you deserve to be kind to yourself.
Treat Yourself. Take yourself to the movie you wanted to see or go to the restaurant you’ve been dying to try. You don’t need a companion—you are enough on your own. You are your own great company. Feel the power and strength of doing what you want when you want without having to acquiesce to anyone else. Because you are worthy.
Walk in the Woods. Or anyplace in nature that you enjoy. Even a walk around the block will boost your mood. Take the time to notice the wildflowers, the birds, the glories of nature. Simply breathing the air and taking in the sights and sounds can make you feel better.
Take Some Quiet Time. You may like to relax in a hot bath, replete with bubbles and candles, or perhaps meditate or listen to music. Whatever quiet pleasure you prefer, set aside some time to slow down and let go of toxic thoughts. Allow yourself to luxuriate in the moment and feel good.
Get Used to Feeling Good About Yourself. Even when you accept your imperfections and limitations, you may let negativity slip back into your thoughts. It takes awhile to change life-long habits of self-criticism. Show yourself empathy and understanding when this happens. Forgive these lapses in yourself. Be more loving toward yourself and you will discover you reap more love in all your relationships.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Psychotherapist