"To love yourself is to understand you don't need to be perfect to be good." ~ Unknown
As a mother of three, I have seen my body go through a lot of changes. I’ve had seasons of loving my body and times of excruciating self-criticism. This journey has spanned several years and been filled with highs and lows. Though harrowing at times, I’ve learned a great deal about myself and who I am trying to be as a mom, a wife and a woman.
Most importantly, I’ve found that regardless of my shifting physical or emotional state, I can continue to move forward if I’m grounded in self-love.
But just how do we love ourselves, especially if this is something we’ve never tried? Certainly, the answer is unique to every individual. For me, there are some specific actions and attitudes that have helped me, which I hope might inspire you as well:
Stop comparing yourself to others. You were specially created to be exactly who you are, regardless of your doubts and insecurities. It’s easy to get caught up in measuring yourself against what someone else appears to be, particularly when they have qualities that you wish you had. Comparing yourself to others takes the focus off accepting yourself totally, with both strengths and weaknesses.
Don’t be fooled by external appearances or how someone seems to be from your limited experience of them. Every person, regardless of what they seem to have, also has uncertainties about themselves, along with their fair share of fears and vulnerabilities. Some people just mask their insecurities better than others. It can help to remember these longstanding words of wisdom—don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.
Stop apologizing. If you intentionally harm someone else, making amends for this wrongdoing restores you to peace and positivity. On the other hand, constantly making apologies for your natural reactions and opinions is a shame-based behavior reflecting lack of self-acceptance and self-love.
Work on being entirely yourself without regrets, and resist the compulsion to compensate, rationalize, or explain. If you accept yourself, flaws and all, you’ll find that love will guide you to grow more and more into the person you’ve always wanted to be. Your truest friends are those who love and accept you wherever you’re at in your personal growth journey.
Take good—no, GREAT—care of yourself. The importance of self-care can’t be over-emphasized. Practice it on all levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Watching your nutrition, exercise, sleep, and routine medical checkups (or when you’re sick) are a few self-care basics. Add some pampering extras, like relaxing bubble baths, painting your nails, buying a new outfit or getting a massage.
Nurture yourself emotionally and spiritually with certain activities: taking quiet time for yourself; scheduling outings with supportive, encouraging friends; applying healthy boundaries so you don’t overextend yourself; practicing prayer and meditation; and journaling about your thoughts and feelings.
Even if you know that your self-esteem is low, pretend that it isn’t by taking excellent care of yourself. Eventually, your psyche catches up with your actions, until your entire being knows how extraordinary and valuable you are.
Choose optimism over pessimism. Your hair may not be perfect, but maybe the brain underneath is sharper than most. Your legs may not be all muscle, but they get you where you need to go. You may not be rich, but you have a cozy bed and plenty to eat.
It’s all too easy to fixate on the perceived shortcomings or unresolved issues in our lives. But indulging in negativity only serves to fuel it further, increasing your misery. When you sense yourself looking at the glass half-empty, consciously put yourself on a more positive track. Gratitude lists, affirmations (e.g. “I can do this,” “I am growing stronger every day,” “I am unique and beautiful.”) and doing service for others are some ways to elevate your emotional and spiritual mindset.
Journal a positive moment daily. Make a point of finding at least one thing or experience in your day that brought you joy. It may be small or relatively insignificant, but if it gave you a lift, write it down! Putting a positive thought or incident in writing makes the good vibes last longer.
On rough days, you can read back about all those moments of happiness and satisfaction to remind yourself that feelings—whether heartwarming or painful—will always come and go. Use the good experiences to ground yourself in a more permanent foundation based on hope, faith and self-love.