Ultimately, it is our feelings about ourselves and how we treat ourselves that are critical to our mental health and well-being. I ask every patient how they much they love themselves on a scale of 1 to 10, and it is rare for me to get a response over five. The most common response I get is, “Now, that is a tough question to answer.” A few patients have responded with a negative number. This saddens me to the core of my being. It breaks my heart to hear someone speak so unkindly of themselves, yet I too would once have given a similar response. It is important to look into another person’s eyes with a heartfelt caring and loving intent. My response to my patients is “When I look in your eyes, I only see love and I do not see anything not to love.” But it is one thing for me to say this and another for patients to embody and accept this statement.
Ask yourself: If you talked to your best friend the way you talk to yourself, would they accept it? When I pose this question to my patients, not once have I received a reply of ‘yes.’ This means that many who struggle with mental wellness are hiding this conversation that they are having with themselves and living in shame.
This is the work we need to set about doing: accepting and loving ourselves. You are a gift to the world—a unique creation—and you are worthy of your own love and acceptance. Recognize that. Feel that. Embody that. And give that love to yourself. Then give it others.
Not acknowledging your strengths, gifts, accomplishments and achievements is a way of putting yourself down and keeping yourself small. The world wants to see your light. As Marianne Williamson writes in A Return to Love: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” If we learn to move through fear, self-doubt and criticism and embrace love, then our true self can shine through.
When you don’t love yourself, how do you start? A great place is mirror work. I learned this exercise from Louise Hay’s book, “You Can Heal Your Life.” Start by looking at yourself in the mirror—connecting with your eyes—and saying, “I love you.” If emotions come up, be with them. It is important to pay attention to how you do this exercise—from not doing it at all, to how long you are able to look at yourself, to the thoughts that might arise as you do it.
It’s important to do this exercise frequently. Just as brushing our teeth is a daily hygiene habit, we need to make loving ourselves a daily hygiene habit as well. One of the reasons this is so difficult is that, as children, many aren’t taught they have worth. Depending on the core beliefs we formed in childhood, the “love for oneself” muscle may be weak and need a lot of strengthening. If you were told as a young child not to be conceited or boastful, or even worse, endured abuse at the hands of another, then extra effort might be required to build your self-esteem. We have to give to ourselves first and look inside ourselves for the answers that we are looking for.
Since you are going to be with you longer than anyone is going to be with you, it is important to get that relationship right before seeking love from another. The famous line from the movie Jerry McGuire—“You complete me” —couldn’t be more wrong. You complete you, not someone else.
Another way to love yourself is to note what you appreciate about yourself. Many patients say they don’t feel they have any good qualities or strengths to acknowledge. I ask them to complete an online survey that assesses character strengths (the VIA Character Strengths questionnaire). The test was co-created by Dr. Martin Seligman (commonly known as the “father of positive psychology” and author of Authentic Happiness and Flourish) and Dr. Christopher Peterson, author of A Primer in Positive Psychology. The VIA character strengths survey provides useful information that can help you understand your positive strengths. Most personality tests include negative or neutral traits, but this survey focuses on your best qualities.
1. Make loving yourself a daily habit by doing the mirror exercise. In your journal, write a list of things you love about yourself. Program three of these qualities into your phone as a reminder and reflect on them a few times a day. Or write them on sticky notes and put them around your house, in your car, or on your desk as reminders to appreciate these loving qualities that you possess.
2. Take the VIA character strength survey. In your Moving Beyond journal, write about an experience in which you utilized one of your strengths.
Share your strengths in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you. To dive deeper into loving yourself and managing your mental health, I’ve created a transformational program for you – check out the Moving Beyond program today!