I Don’t Know How to Love MyselfJun 07, 2022
Almost every week I have a client tell me, “I don’t know how to love myself.” For most people, this seems like a really big problem, but because we each have a human brain that is only programmed to notice what’s wrong with us, none of us are naturally or instinctively good at loving ourselves.
Our brain is programmed to notice our faults, our deficiencies, our failures, our lack. We don’t spend much time considering what we’re proud of, what’s going well, what our strengths are, where we’re succeeding because all of this is irrelevant to our brain whose only job is to scan our lives for threats. (It turns out that our deficiencies make us much more vulnerable than our strengths.)
But you can learn to love yourself and not just the “good parts.” You can love ALL of you and it will change your life if you do. Here is everything you need to know whenever you feel like, “I don’t know how to love myself.”
What creates love?
It’s easy to think that love is something that happens to us. It’s also easy to think that we have no control about when or how it happens.
But the truth is, love is a feeling. And just like any other feeling, it doesn’t just happen to anyone. All of our feelings, including the feeling of love, are created by our thoughts. Feelings are the way that the brain communicates with the rest of the body and they are generated first by a thought in the brain.
Sometimes we think “I don't know how to love myself,” but it would be more helpful to say that “I don’t know how to choose thoughts that create love for myself.” Our thoughts about ourselves make us feel the feelings we feel towards ourselves, so if we want to feel more love for ourselves we have to think more thoughts that will create that feeling.
So the first thing to remember if you are thinking “I don’t know how to love myself” is that we love ourselves the way we love anything else…we start in our heads. We notice what we think about ourselves and change the thoughts that aren’t creating love.
Love is a choice
After we understand that thoughts create love, it can be easy to think that we “can't'' think loving thoughts about ourselves. We look around at ourselves and decide that there’s nothing loving to think, that there are so many things wrong with us that we can’t possibly think loving thoughts.
It’s important to recognize that we are always making a choice when it comes to our thoughts. No matter what we think about ourselves, we need to know that it is always a choice. Your brain may have lots of negative thoughts about you that it has practiced thinking for many years, it may have many thoughts about you that it thinks almost automatically, on default, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make another choice if you want to.
You really do have to choose to think differently about yourself.
When you find your brain offering you negative, mean, or unloving thoughts about yourself, you need to notice the choice you are making to let your brain think whatever it wants, and then make another choice. Refuse to think unloving thoughts when you catch yourself doing it and require yourself to find something loving to think instead.
The scriptures say that we are being that act, not beings that are acted upon, and that means that you are not required to think ANY thought. You always have a choice. You have the agency to think anything you want about yourself and no one (not even your own brain) can stop you. So choose loving thoughts.
Instead of thinking, “I don’t know how to love myself,” you can shift to “I have the ability to choose to love myself.”
Love doesn’t come naturally
After we understand and recognize that of course we always have a choice about what we think, sometimes people will tell me, “But it’s not easy.”
No, it isn’t.
The easy thing is thinking the way we always have. The easy thing is thinking the negative, default thoughts our brain usually gives us. The easy thing is thinking the habitual, practiced thoughts that we’ve thought about ourselves for years or even decades.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that love is supposed to be easy. That it is supposed to come naturally and that if it is real, it will be comfortable and easy.
The truth is that love is the hardest and holiest work we do. In every major world religion, love is the highest ideal, the highest level of actualization. And it is extremely difficult to do. But that’s what makes it worth your effort.
As you do the challenging work of loving yourself, you are growing your skill and your strength at doing the hard work of love. This skill can then be used in all the areas of your life, with all the people you interact with, with all the people you live and work and worship with.
Love doesn’t come naturally to anyone and it takes intention and practice. But that doesn’t mean that you’re doing it wrong. It means that you are doing the work that real love requires. And there is no one that is more important to do that work on than yourself.
Because you have a human brain you are very aware of your faults and problems. If you can do the work on you, when you know all your flaws, then you can love anyone else.
When you know that love is not supposed to be easy and that it is a skill that you can grow and develop, you can turn the thought “I don’t know how to love myself” into “I am doing the work to love myself.”
Here are some powerful exercises to help you do the work to love yourself:
1. Mirror work - Set a timer for 2 minutes. Spend two minutes every day looking at yourself in the eyes in a mirror. As you look into your eyes, say to yourself:
I love you because _____________. I love you because ________________.
Try to tell yourself the reasons that you love yourself without repeating anything in the two minutes.
At first this may be very uncomfortable and will feel embarrassing, but you will get more and more comfortable with the exercise. As you get better at looking at yourself and naming things you love, you can challenge yourself to not repeat the same things in two subsequent days, or three days, or a week.
2. Brush your teeth/Connect with You - This is similar to mirror work. Most of us brush our teeth twice a day and it is a good time to just spend time loving yourself. Instead of looking away as we often do, look into your eyes with compassion and love. Really see yourself. Notice what’s going on for you inside. Accept yourself however you are in that moment, however you feel. Get in touch with the real you inside and love and accept everything you see.
As you look at yourself you can remind yourself: You are good. You are enough. You are worthy. You are 100% okay as you are.
3. Behavior boundaries - Create a policy in your life (a code of conduct with yourself) that if you wouldn’t say it to someone you love, you won’t say it to yourself.
You are the only one who can enforce this policy. But it is important that you do. When you notice your thoughts, ask yourself, “Would I say this to my child?” “Would I say this to my friend?” “Would I say this to someone I admire?” If you wouldn’t say it to them, create a rule that you won’t say it to yourself.
4. The lunch room table - Sometimes we think there are parts of us that we just can’t love. We think there are parts of us that are bad or unacceptable or need to change before we can love them. You can make a list of all these parts of you that you don’t like.
Notice how you have been rejecting these parts of you. Now imagine a junior high cafeteria. As you walk through that cafeteria remember how it felt when people wouldn’t let you sit at their table, how they wouldn’t allow you to be with them. In many ways this is how you have been treating yourself, not letting all these “bad” parts of you “sit” with you. In a sense, you have been saying, “You can’t sit with me. You’re too ugly, too unattractive, too smelly, too embarrassing, too shameful.” You have been rejecting these parts of you.
Now Invite all these parts of you to sit at your table. Mentally imagine allowing all the parts of you to sit with you and be a part of your life. Think about how all of you is always welcome to sit with you and that you are done rejecting and shaming these parts of you. All of you is welcome at your table.
5. I love you anyway - Similar to the lunch room table exercise, decide how you’re going to treat yourself when you make mistakes, when you get things wrong, and you don’t show up the way you want to in your life. It doesn’t help to hate yourself or make yourself wrong. It is much more powerful to tell yourself, “I love you anyway.”
We aren’t trying to abdicate responsibility with this thought, we are just making it okay to be ourselves, to be human, and to get it wrong sometimes. You can always tell yourself, “Sometimes we don’t do it right, but I love you anyway.”
It is always possible to love ourselves and if you ever feel like “I don’t know how to love myself” any of these exercises will help you do the practice so that you will gain the skill of loving you and know exactly how to do it.
There is no downside to loving you
Sometimes we are hesitant to do all this work to love us. Sometimes we worry that it will make us selfish or arrogant or unaware of our faults. While this may be a natural concern, you don’t need to have it.
No matter how much work you do on loving yourself, your brain will still offer you plenty of thoughts about how you are failing, what’s wrong with you, why you aren’t enough. Your brain will never just stop doing that and give you only positive thoughts about yourself. Your work to love you will be ongoing work you do your whole life. As long as you have a brain, you will need to purposefully choose thoughts that create love.
Not only that, but when you do the work to love yourself, it is never about loving yourself more than other people, or thinking you are better than others. It is about loving yourself better, getting more skill in love, and using that skill to love others even more—not less.
There is no downside to loving yourself. Loving yourself doesn’t make you complacent or satisfied with who you are. It simply allows you to stop belittling yourself and hating yourself so that you change and grow without beating yourself up. True love creates the best conditions for change.
I tell my clients that if you don’t like how it feels, if you don’t like what you create in your life when you are loving yourself, you can always go back to hating yourself. I’ve never seen anyone go back. There is just so much good that comes from choosing to love yourself.
Love is always an option
No matter how long you have felt like, “I don’t know how to love myself,” you can change that. The only thing that is ever stopping you from loving yourself is your own thoughts created in your own brain.
And you are in charge of that. You can decide on purpose, you can choose for yourself, what you are going to think about you so that you can love yourself as deeply and as completely as you want.
If you want more help choosing to love yourself, you can sign up for a free coaching call and see how changing your thoughts about yourself is the way to change that forever.
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