What happens when you look at yourself in the mirror? Do you see someone you can say you truly love with all your heart? No? That’s not unusual. While we love others fully, we sometimes can’t feel the same love, acceptance and value for ourselves. However, in order to truly love someone else, you have to love yourself first. And why shouldn’t you love yourself? You are a unique masterpiece that has only been made once. When you think about loving yourself, you probably will try to focus on what you think is good and lovable about yourself. But here’s the surprising thing. We are saying LOVE IT ALL, even what you think is bad or ugly or difficult. We are saying you need to love yourself the way you are, flaws and all, so that you can use that self-love as a strength and foundation for your attitudes and relationships.
What is Self-love?
Self-love is simple, but certainly not easy. Research shows that self-love is a combination of self-appreciation and self-acceptance. Self-appreciation involves knowing and appreciating your strengths by focusing on what you do well rather than what you perceive that you do wrong. This involves self-reflection and building self-awareness. Self-acceptance involves knowing and embracing your perceived challenges/weaknesses, and learning to accept yourself as you currently are in the present moment. According to Dr. Russ Harirs, in his book The Happiness Trap, “Self-acceptance means you refuse to buy into the judgments your mind makes about you, whether they're good judgments or bad ones. Instead of judging yourself, recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and you can do what you can to be the person you want to be.”
What stands in the way of self-love?
The idea of self love can leave us feeling conflicted. Many of us were taught at an early age that loving ourselves is conceited, and this may be at the root of our constant need to berate ourselves. However, this process of constantly putting ourselves down has contributed to what Brené Brown, Ph.D, calls a scarcity culture, where we feel as though we are never enough (smart enough, successful enough, pretty enough, etc), and ultimately, this leads to our inability to recognize and appreciate our strengths. It also hampers our ability to accept our perceived weaknesses as opportunities for growth.
Perhaps you have experienced a traumatic event in your past that has made you feel unworthy of love from yourself or anyone else. Did someone make you feel unworthy? Has something in your past that you have done or was done to you put you in a position to feel loathing instead of love on the inside? You don’t have to accept that reasoning. Exciting new research into post-traumatic growth says that people can emerge from trauma or adversity having achieved positive personal growth. The key is looking for and recognizing the areas where you did excel. Studies show people who experience post-traumatic growth are those who endure struggle but then emerge changed on the other side after self-reflection and discovery.
Sometimes we don’t feel love for ourselves because of deep wounds from the past that we allow to linger in our minds and hearts. Explore these ideas and understand that you deserve to love yourself, you just need to start to practice doing it!
All love begins with self-love. It is the literal seed that allows us to spread love, be loving and receive love from others. If we don’t understand this, we sometimes look for proof that we are unworthy of love. And if we look hard enough, of course we will find it. We are saying you must flip that focus and look for the evidence that you are a treasure and a gift for the world to unwrap and glorify.
We are all equipped with our own personal strengths for OUR race in life. We don’t need to compare ourselves to anyone else. Our journey is ours. Theirs is theirs. They will look different but will both have value. We have what we need INSIDE of us, and we don't need to look outside of ourselves for validation of our worthiness.
One way to cultivate self-love is by focusing on what you do well rather than what you perceive that you do wrong. This involves self-reflection and building self-awareness.
Practicing Self-love through Self-appreciation
Recognizing your positive traits is an important aspect of Positive Psychology. This can be easily done by completing the Values in Action (VIA) Survey of Character Strengths. The VIA, is a self-report questionnaire that measures the degree to which respondents endorse items reflecting the 24 strengths of character that comprise the VIA Classification. These 24 character strengths make up what’s best about our personality. Everyone possesses all 24 character strengths in different degrees, so each person has a truly unique character strengths profile. Research shows that when you discover your greatest strengths, you can use them to face life’s challenges, work toward goals, and feel more fulfilled both personally and professionally. You can click here to take the VIA for free.
Take the VIA Assessment now and write your top five strengths in your journal.
Create a list of your accomplishments and note which of your strengths enabled you to succeed.
List some opportunities to use your top strengths in new and interesting ways throughout the day.
Take time to visualize your "ideal self" using your strengths to accomplish your personal goals.
Practicing Self-love through Self-acceptance
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of behavioral therapy that combines mindfulness skills with the practice of self-acceptance. According to Steven Hayes, founder of ACT, the ACT practices are designed to help people learn to accept what is out of their control, and commit instead to actions that enrich their lives. Self-acceptance means you refuse to buy into the judgments your mind makes about you, whether they're good judgments or bad ones. Instead of judging yourself, recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and you can do what you can to be the person you want to be.
ACT encourages people to embrace their thoughts and feelings rather than fighting against them or feeling guilty for having them. Acceptance is one of the six core principles of ACT. Imagine how much better life would be if you could accept and allow yourself to feel what you feel about yourself, even if it’s negative!
What is Acceptance?
Acceptance involves creating space for unpleasant feelings, urges, and sensations, rather than suppressing them or avoiding them. Acceptance means opening up to these emotions and letting them come and go without struggling with them or running from them. When we learn how to let these thoughts come and go easily, they become less bothersome. Acceptance does not mean passive resignation. Resignation means giving up because you've decided that there's nothing you can do about your situation, whereas acceptance simply means that you accept that your situation happened. It doesn't mean that you like what's happening or that you don't wish it were different, but once you give up the resistance and denial, you can take the energy you were spending on struggling and use it to decide how to respond or what to do next. In this way, acceptance can be liberating.
ACT techniques invite you to accept what is, and work with what you have. Some acceptance strategies include:
1. Letting feelings or thoughts happen without the impulse to act on them.
2. Observing your weaknesses while also taking note of your strengths.
3. Giving yourself permission to not be good at everything.
4. Acknowledging the difficulty in your life without escaping from it or avoiding it.
5. Realizing that you can be in control of how you think, feel and react.
How can you apply these acceptance strategies to your life?
What Stands in the Way of Self-acceptance?
We all have an inner critic who tells us everything we are doing wrong in life. It’s that inner voice that criticizes your thoughts, feelings and actions. It’s the negative self-talk that’s rooted in those core negative beliefs you identified in the self-compassion section of this program. The “not enough” statements (not good enough, not smart enough, not successful enough, etc.) Self-criticism keeps us from accepting aspects of ourselves that can’t be changed, and limits how we can grow and succeed. According to Ruth Baer, PhD, ACT practitioner and author of The Practicing Happiness Workbook, “Self-criticism triggers feelings of shame, guilt, sadness, anger, frustration, embarrassment, disappointment and hopelessness. It saps our energy, morale, motivation, and confidence, making it hard to keep going in the face of difficulties.”
So how do we combat that critical voice inside? According to Steven Hayes, founder of ACT, the key is found in mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness teaches us to understand that our thoughts appear and disappear, and that we do not have to believe them or act upon them. Once you realize that your thoughts are not necessarily realistic, important, or meaningful, you can learn how to allow them to come and go and not get attached to them.
Another one of the six core ACT principles is cognitive defusion. Cognitive defusion techniques are intended not to change your thoughts and feelings, but rather to change how you react to your thoughts and feelings. Defusion involves distancing and disconnecting from your thoughts so you can see them for what they are (streams of words, passing sensations), and to let them be there without fighting them. This process requires mindfulness, and involves recognizing the difference between your thoughts and your interpretation of what they mean. It also involves gaining self-awareness and noticing how your interpretation of your thoughts is affecting you.
List in your journal some of your common self-critical thoughts.
How do you feel when you think these thoughts about yourself?
ACT categorizes these as “unhelpful thoughts.” Defusion techniques can help you accept these thoughts by seeing them in a non-threatening way, as simply a string of words. One defusion technique is called Silly Voices where you repeat the thought aloud slowly, in a squeaky or comic voice. We recommend using a voice like Yoda, Mickey Mouse, or Bugs Bunny. Imagine how much less power your self-critical words would have if you heard them in these silly, happy voices? It can take away the pain and the harshness just long enough for you to realize you don’t deserve what you are saying to yourself.
Try using the Silly Voices technique now.
Another fun defusion technique is called Musical Thoughts. This involves taking your self-critical thought and singing it to yourself to the tune of a common upbeat song such as “Happy Birthday” or “Jingle Bells.” This helps you to realize that your thought is just made up of words, like the lyrics of a song. You are the one giving these thoughts the power they don’t deserve. This can stop the ruminating we sometimes do on the same subjects that keep us stuck and unsatisfied.
Try using the Musical Thoughts technique now.
Another defusion technique is thinking about our thoughts and feelings as though they are like the weather, they come and they go. We know that we cannot control or stop the weather, and the same is true for our thoughts and feelings. But we can learn to react to them differently. And if we give up the futile struggle to try and stop or control it, the storm of thoughts and feelings will pass. Next time you feel as though you are in the middle of “a storm”, try to remember that the sun will come out again, and oftentimes there’s a rainbow at the end of the storm!
ACT offers so many helpful defusion techniques; you can find more by simply Googling ACT defusion techniques.
See yourself through the eyes of love!
Although self-love is an inside job, sometimes it's difficult to turn off our "stinking thinking" and focus on our strengths. If this is the case for you, try to look at yourself through the eyes of a loved one and see yourself as they see you. This will enable you to see how truly magnificent you really are! If this is too difficult, try asking a loved one to tell you the strengths they see in you. Listen without judgment and let their words speak to your soul. Set the intention to see only the light in yourself and in others.
A-Z Positive Traits
Download the A-Z positive traits worksheet and fill in at least three positive traits for each letter of the alphabet. If you have trouble coming up with three, ask a friend or a family member who knows and loves you to help.
This activity is taken from the work of Louise Hayes. Stand in front of a mirror (or hold up a hand held mirror) and look into your own eyes (don't be tempted to look at or judge any aspects of your face or body), imagine that you are looking into your soul. Say the words "I love you" aloud to yourself. This may be challenging at first, but with practice it will become easier, and more believable. Do this every day for at least 21 days and over time it will help to increase your self-love.