There's a lot of confusion surrounding what it means to "love yourself," something that's especially contested when it comes to women who, in the words of Cheryl Strayed, are the gender to which a gigantic "here to serve" button has been pinned. Loving yourself isn't holding yourself in some unrealistic, grandiose regard. It's not being "selfish" in that you only care about your feelings and disregard what anybody else needs. It's not thinking that you're better than anyone or being disconnected from the reality of the ways you're imperfect, too. It's just taking care of yourself like you would anybody else. (Really. That's it.)
It's respecting yourself. It's making sure that your emotional, mental and physical well-being is looked after, because at the end of the day, nobody is responsible for that but us. We're not good at recognizing this because we were never really taught how to do it, or that it was a positive (and completely necessary) aspect of living a healthy, full, happy life. The thing is that we most need our own love when we feel like we least deserve it. We must try to be kindest to ourselves when our instincts are to do the opposite. And really, doing so is more simple than you think. Here are a few ways to start:
You are responsible for your life. You are in charge of your brain and your space and what you say, goes. This works both ways, though: you're also the one choosing to be unloving and unkind, and why you are choosing that is something for you to figure out — but first you must focus on the fact that you can choose.
Tell yourself that you're not entertaining your negative thoughts today. End conversations in which you feel powerless, unproductively negative, overall frustrated, or a victim of someone else's desire to project or oppress or otherwise lift themselves up at your expense. Say no. Say no to yourself when you feel like you can't wear something because you don't 'have the body,' when you revert to placing yourself, yet again, in a state of "almost, but not quite there yet." Say no to the voices that want to keep you from living — enjoying — your life. They will, if you let them.
Don't Underestimate The Power Of Self Care
Take a hot bath and wash your hair and clean your space and cook yourself a meal. You may otherwise consider these things rote, but when you're struggling with self-love, they're everything, and they're easy to mindlessly forego.
Create More Realistic Goals For The Day
We have built a world in which we demand unrealistic standards for ourselves each day. Even when the work is done, we can mentally stockpile a dozen others that we need to do (or should have done, or could maybe still do). We never mentally shut off from work, which comes from being grandiose about what we're really capable of.
Make your goals just to get a few things done and have that be enough (as opposed to do everything and inevitably fail in some way and feel crappy for the rest of the day). The real trick here is that momentum will naturally build. It's how you'll actually get things done (and checking things off your mental to-do list is a natural boost, always).
Call Someone Who Loves You
Love yourself by placing yourself in a position to be loved by someone else. Open your heart to it. Allow it. Say thank you.
Do Something You'd Otherwise Consider A Little Indulgent
Don't break the bank if you can't afford to — but get yourself a massage (or some other kind of bodywork). Take a yoga class. Download a meditation app. Just promise yourself that you can eat cookie butter and strawberries and watch Gilmore Girls in bed for the next hour. The reality is that in moderation, and on occasion, these things are rarely indulgent as much as they are simply enjoyable and mentally necessary.
Once You're Feeling Better, Give Yourself Some Tough Love And Be Radically Honest
If you're experiencing stress or tension or unhappiness with yourself or with your life, there's something that's not right. It could be as simple as a lapse of perception or gratitude, but regardless, now is not the time to fail to regard discomfort as a call to change. It's you telling yourself there's something more for you. You must heed it.
Make A Plan To Change
Take out a notebook and write down literal action items, goals, and concrete plans to change what it is that's upsetting you. If it's love that's got you down, make a list of ways you can open yourself up to it — or why you aren't in the first place. If it's body image, tell yourself you're going to buy a crop top and eat what makes you feel good, and still love yourself for it. The best, and really only, way to heal is to change, and the only way to change is to decide to.
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