One of my best talents is self-love. Yes, I have many days where I’m unhappy looking in the mirror and I often second guess choices I make. But I also really love myself. It’s weird (and sad) how hard that is to admit out loud (self-deprecation is so much more the norm), but I think part of self-love is expressing it so that other people can feel comfortable expressing their self-love too.
However, “self-love” hasn’t always been on my list of personality traits or achievements. Much of my teenage and adult life has been spent trying to look or act different so that I was more “likable.” It’s taken me failed relationships, major life changes, and a whole lot of therapy to feel this way about myself. My therapist taught me a lot about self-love and where I was holding myself back. The good news is that self-love is not a destination; it’s the most important lifelong relationship you’ll ever work on. Now that we have all the cheesy clichés out of the way, read on for five things I learned from my therapist that helped me love myself and will maybe help you love yourself too.
Self-love is not a destination; it’s the most important lifelong relationship you’ll ever work on.
1. “Perfect” isn’t a goal
When I first started seeing my therapist, I told her about my anxiety by explaining it as “illogical” and “a little crazy” (as if that somehow made it less illogical or crazy?). I also explained behaviors like falling asleep with the TV on or scrolling through Instagram during my morning meditation time by prefacing with, “I know it’s bad…” I’d get frustrated if I failed a health goal, wasn’t able to sleep at night because stress kept me awake, or made a wrong decision. I used these “failed goals” to explain what’s wrong with me rather than questioning that something might be wrong with the goals (but more on that below).
The judgment over my own behaviors came from the idea that I had to be perfect. But not achieving a goal or making a mistake is not a failure; it’s a way to get to know yourself better. Plus, you already know perfect isn’t possible thanks to every cliché self-help book and inspirational quote out there (so start believing it!), but even if it was achievable, achieving it wouldn’t make you happier anyway. Your goal as a human being should be to find balance, not to achieve perfection.
2. Self-love doesn’t just happen
Self-love is a skill, not a circumstance. Just like happiness or gratitude, self-love doesn’t just happen to you when you reach a certain job title or pant size. It’s a muscle that needs to be worked repeatedly in order to make it stronger. Every negative thought, moment of self-doubt, or criticism that comes up is like a practice round to improve self-love because you can recognize the thought and choose a more positive thought instead. Also, please stop saying that once you lose weight, get a promotion, or have more money, then you will love yourself. That’s just not how the mind works. You achieve what you want in life because you first know you deserve it, not the other way around.
3. The problem isn’t you; it’s your expectations
So you don’t look like a Photoshopped influencer, can’t resist cheese fries, or are too lazy to work out five times a week. You probably use all of these “failures” as justification to criticize yourself, thinking things like, “If only I had more willpower or looked more attractive, I could achieve what I want.” But why do you want to achieve those things in the first place? Would looking like someone else make you truly happier? No. Would working out five times a week make you happier? No. Would saying “no” to cheese fries make you happier? Helllll no. The truth is that we get so caught up in what we’re supposed to do, want, and be that we forget to think about what would actually make us happy. If you’re not meeting expectations, the problem is not you. The problem is that your expectations and goals don’t truly align with what it takes to make you happy.
When it comes to my own self-love, I’m letting my body exist in the healthy space it wants to be in. My “ideal weight” is the one that I feel most strong, energized, and healthy in but also one that allows me the extra indulgences, fun moments, and enjoyment that makes life worth living. Our own expectations and goals should be tools we use to help us live our happiest lives. Otherwise, what’s the point?
4. There’s a difference between what you think is reality and actual reality
My therapist showed me how my thought patterns would go into “all-or-nothing” mode, otherwise known as black-and-white thinking. Either I was perfectly healthy and motivated or I stopped caring about my health altogether; either I was crushing it at work or I thought I was completely messing up; either I loved my outfit and my hair looked great or I felt totally insecure leaving the house. The problem with this way of thinking is that I believed what my mind told me, thinking it was reality.
PSA: Life always has shades of gray. Plus, it’s not just gray but a variety of colors you can choose from. If you’re criticizing or hard on yourself, it’s almost always because of your mindset, not because of reality (read: no one else is as hard on you as you are). Realize where you’re thinking in black and white, then add in other options. For example, you can be really good at your job while still making some mistakes, you can be healthy while indulging in chocolate cake, and you can still be happy with your life, even when you’re stressed about parts of it.
5. Self-respect is more important
So self-love gets all the buzz these days, but I’d like to introduce you to a new word that’s even more important: self-respect. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t going to live with the Lizzo vibes 24/7 and love everything about ourselves (not even Lizzo!). Maybe you want to change your nose, hate the way you look in an outfit, or regret something you did. And that’s OK, because when you love yourself (and I mean really, really love yourself), it’s not that you don’t have those thoughts, it’s just that you know those things don’t make you less than what you are.
You achieve self-love the same way you build up any other relationship: show you care, do what you say you’re going to do, enjoy time alone, be kind, and be thoughtful. Confidence is what happens when you trust your own word, and self-respect comes when you live in alignment with who you truly are. Aim for self-trust and self-respect instead, knowing that self-love will follow.