Everyone’s heard the clichéd advice: love yourself. Given how self-obsessed all of us are, it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to follow it. Yet that isn’t the case. “It isn’t hard to love ourselves, or anyone else, when things are going well,” says Washington, DC-based licensed psychologist Alicia Clark. “What’s a much taller order is to love ourselves when things aren’t going well, and when we need love most.”
One of the reasons mental health experts wax eloquent about loving yourself is because the practice has a direct impact on your relationships. “Loving yourself has to do with the capacity to direct compassion toward yourself, and ultimately toward others,” explains Clark. “If you love yourself conditionally, you will always be looking for someone to act in ways to win your love, and will likely be often disappointed.”
There’s no denying that self-love is important, but let’s face it: it’s hard to practice. Here are some practical suggestions that will help you embrace your beautiful self unconditionally:
1. Get the basics right. When your personal or professional life is rocked by setbacks, the basics—proper sleep, exercise, and nutrition—are the first areas to be affected. Train yourself to take control of your life in times of distress. “Practice self-care, especially during times that aren’t so rough,” advises St. Louis-based mental health therapist Justine Froelker. “That way when life gets crazy, which it always will, you have those basics of self-care that aren’t going anywhere.”
2. Surround yourself with love. Having affectionate and caring people around you will help advance your goal of loving yourself. “People are important to this—make sure you surround yourself with people that love you for who you are, and not only for what you do,” says Clark. “Make no mistake, how we treat others is foundational to forging loving relationships. But it’s not the only thing. Having people around us who love us can help us remember how to love ourselves when we sometimes forget.”
3. Learn to enjoy solitude. It may seem counterintuitive, but learning to love yourself means that you should be able to enjoy being alone. “Learn who you are and who you want to be, which means you may also need to learn how to be alone and with yourself, so meditation and prayer can help with this,” says Froelker. Try this activity: sit and listen to a song, or light a candle, or smell an essential oil. Do this for five to ten minutes a day. “You will feel the difference,” Froelker states.
4. Take it easy. It’s too easy to get caught up in the rat race. In the process of achieving your professional ambitions, you can sometimes be harsh on yourself. “Catch yourself when you are driving yourself toward a goal, and ask yourself if you are being gentle enough,” says Clark. “Practicing gentleness and compassion can be a powerful strategy of building self-love.”
5. Mind your language. While many self-help books are dedicated to honing your ability to talk to others, none teach you how to talk to yourself. “Not only does the language we use toward ourselves speak volumes about us, it also helps to create our realities,” says positive psychology coach Colleen Georges. “In other words, we believe and live what we tell ourselves.” When you commit a mistake, instead of berating yourself for it, Georges suggests saying something like this: “No big deal, I’m keeping at this. Success takes trial and error, and I’ll use this experience to learn. I’ve got this.”
6. Be prepared. There will be heartbreaks, deaths of loved ones, and career setbacks to cope with. “Accept the fact that there are inevitable experiences that compromise your ability to love yourself; but difficulties don’t necessarily persist, and there is always a way to re-establish equilibrium,” says New York City-based psychologist Brenda Bauer, Psy.D. When the going gets tough, you may be tempted to resort to substances such as alcohol and drugs to feel better. Be determined not to fall into the substance abuse trap. “The boomerang effect of substances only compounds the problem,” Bauer says.