Malik Daniels
Photo credit: Malik Daniels

Why Practicing Self-Love Isn’t Optional But Necessary

12 ways to practice it and getting on board with the #HowBeautifulChallenge.

I had the honor of interviewing the band On the Outside. They are inspirationally challenging youth and others to cultivate body positivity and self-love with their #HowBeautifulChallenge. Their song How Beautiful advocates for self-love. This is an incredible message for youth by their peers, especially given all the external influences such as social media that significantly impacts on self-perception.

In my practice, I often find myself feeling wishful that others could see the beauty that I see in them. I recognize there are factors that inhibit our ability to truly see our wholeness and that we are enough just as we are.

Factors that Inhibit from Internalizing Self-Love

We tend to be judgmental, unkind, and our own harshest critic. To protect us from failure, discomfort, or anything it perceives as threatening, our mind resorts to strategies that could sometimes thwart us. It can become overprotective, hypervigilant, and avoidant which can keep us remote from acting on behalf of our values, being our best selves, and fully accepting all that we are.

We never quite learn how to cultivate self-love because we are socialized to tamp down thoughts, feelings, and actions in which we appear “full of ourselves”, “self-absorbed”, “cocky” or “arrogant.” We get confused about how to be appropriately confident, proud, and grateful for who we are.

We may get fearful if we’re self-accepting and practice self-love that we’ll let ourselves off the hook and settle for mediocrity. Quite the opposite, we acquire self-belief, and move toward striving, being more productive, and live life more meaningfully.

We naturally seek external validation because we are taught to. Developmentally our brain is hardwired to seek the love, assurance, and acceptance from our parents and caretakers. Some are fortunate to receive that unconditionally, while others are not. A child often interprets, “If my own parents, who are supposed to love me and treat me better than anyone else in the world, can’t love me, I must not be loveable, and others may not love me either.” It is also challenging to practice self-love if it is a rarity, and something we haven’t routinely seen, felt, or experienced.

In our childhood, we also hear about how others perceive us and are proud of us but are rarely directed toward assessing how we feel about ourselves and what it means to us. We hear “the coach and team are proud of you” rather than “how did you feel about that hit and what you accomplished?”

Our mind also leads us in that direction as it uses comparisons to others as a way of holding us accountable and living up to a certain standard. Unfortunately, it most often selects unrealistic and lofty comparisons. In an attempt to motivate us to live up to these standards, it tends to discourage and deplete us.

We are not taught to hear, accept, and internalize complimentary sentiments directed at us. Think about how it feels when someone approaches us with a warm or kind sentiment. It can often feel awkward and uncomfortable. We may question if it is factually true, whether they are sincere, and struggle with how to respond that does not appear or sound “narcissistic.”

Our mind makes it its mission to defend against anyone seeing our flaws and imperfections or judging us based on them, despite it being part of our humanness. We also can’t forget about our past experiences and possible mistakes. When we have these to contend with, which we all invariably do, our mind incessantly reminds us of them to avoid being in the position of repeating them. These factors all naturally impacts on our ability to accept and appreciate all of us.

Benefits of Cultivating Self-Love

When discussing self-love, the objective is not to maintain feeling enduring positivity toward the self. That is not realistic or sustainable. It is understandable and expected that our thoughts and feelings ebb and flow and depending on our circumstances and how we’re behaving, we can expect an array of comfortable and uncomfortable feelings to surface.

What is more attainable is to carry simultaneously the more uncomfortable thoughts and feelings while non-judgmentally and unconditionally holding onto self-compassion and self-love. This will afford us with considering and being open and accepting of our thoughts and feelings, personal insight and perspective to consider our needs, and making mindful and intentional decisions that will move us in the direction of our values and being our best self.

Inhabiting self-love we are more likely to be less self-critical and more compassionate toward ourselves and expect to be treated thoughtfully and respectfully in our relationships with others. Our worthiness and value will increase exponentially. It becomes the foundation by which we assert our needs, set boundaries, and lead our life in the direction that we are personally proud of.

Methods to Practice Self-Love:

1.      Acknowledge and celebrate when you lean into your values, goals, and accomplishments. Do this no matter how insignificant your mind may tell you that it is and take note of the process and steps along the way.

2.     Fully take in when someone is complimentary. Besides expressing appreciation, share what it means to you that they shared that sentiment.

3.     Act with mindfulness and intentionality. The more you behave on behalf of who you truly want to be, the easier it is to be accepting of self-compassion and self-love.

4.    Be aware of comparing yourself to others. You can only enhance when you are being a better version of yourself, rather than focusing on being better than others or an unrealistic ideal.

5.     Practice being mindful and being in the present moment. It helps to give you space between the thinking, feeling, and doing. It allows you to be more focused, intentional, and mindful in your actions.

6.    Remember that your thoughts and feelings do not define who you fundamentally are. You cannot control your thoughts and feelings, only the actions you take on behalf of them. You can have “mean” or “unkind” thoughts and feelings and that does not equate to you being a mean or unkind person. You can still elect to practice being thoughtful and kind in your actions. You are not your thoughts and feelings.

7.     Accept your imperfections as part of your humanness and allow yourself to make mistakes. Your imperfections may be underdeveloped parts of yourself that you can still grow. Evaluating, studying, being curious, and open to them can facilitate life lessons and immense personal growth and enhancement.

8.    Internalize that you have many parts to you that make up who you are and how you function. Your value and worth does not lie central to one part of you. Sometimes we define ourselves solely by how we appear, how intelligent we are, etc.

9.    Direct yourself toward personal validation. Notice when your mind is seeking it externally from others and direct it inward by asking. “How do I think and feel about this?” “What’s my perspective on it?” “How do I want to be?” and “What does this mean to me?”

10.      Take every opportunity to challenge yourself and work toward self-love. Don’t underestimate that every action you take to be a better version of yourself, is a worthy and substantial one. Cultivate the mantra — anything you do, is everything you do. Every time you act kindly or thoughtfully, you make a better choice for yourself, or challenge yourself to do better, if noteworthy, and a moment to celebrate you and all that you are.

11.        Surround yourself with people who build you up rather than knock you down. Embody the saying, “Be with others who bring out the best in you, not the stress in you.” Relationships take relenting effort, but should not exhaust, diminish, or rob you of your sense of self-worth. If they do, then they are likely to make self-love impossible or more challenging for you to internalize.

12.       Treat yourself as you would treat someone you love and exercise self-care. Sometimes when you think of others rather than yourself, it can lead you to be more open and compassionate. If that works for you, use that as a guide. Exercising self-care, helps you to further accentuate your value and worthiness. This could take on many forms such as setting up realistic expectations, asking for what you need or support from others, doing something healthful and pleasurable, or saying something to yourself you may most need to hear in a moment of distress.

When practicing self-love be patient and persistent. Anything we truly want typically takes concerted time and effort. Self-love is forever evolving, must be practiced daily, and there is never any end point. It is a practice that brings us more personal fulfillment, joyfulness, and greater meaning in our lives.

Here is the full interview with On the Outside.

Here is a Self-Love and Mirror Guided Meditation led by me. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel for more interviews and guided meditations.

Blog as published in Psychology Today.

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