Last week, we discussed embracing change as a part of recovering from a breakup or divorce. Today I’d like to suggest a change which helped me tremendously – learning how to love yourself.
Yes, it sounds vague and empty. People always tell you that “you need to love yourself,” but they never tell you how to do that. Personally, I’m not sure half the people who say it know how to do it anyways.
It’s Easy to Love Others
In college, my best friend (let’s call her Mary) and I had a very rough go of things. We both had two majors and two theses to work on, one of which involved creating an entire gallery show. On top of our stress, we had incredibly rocky love lives. I had broken up with my fiancé and was constantly being ghosted by love interests. Mary was head over heels for a boyfriend who had openly admitted that he didn’t see them ending up together.
Though we had stopped rooming together my junior year, Mary and I were each other’s primary support system. We spent many late nights together doing thesis work, often working for up to six hours a night. She would sit next to my cat and edit photos while I cut and painted parts of books.
We expressed our fears to each other. We usually started with those related to our work – “I don’t think the art professors like my thesis.” “I don’t know what I’m doing.” “This is horrible; I’m a failure.” Later into the night, we’d bring up our love lives. “I don’t think he wants to be with me.” “I really like this one, but I think he’ll disappear like the others.” “Maybe I’ll always be single.”
When one of us announced our worry, the other would tell us we were wrong. If Mary thought she wasn’t good enough for her boyfriend, I would tell her she was too good for him. When all the men I tried to date turned me down, she told me that I intimidated them. In both cases, we agreed that college boys were dumb.
We Love Ourselves the Same Way
At times, we would discuss how hard it was for us to love ourselves. The idea itself seemed almost narcissistic to us, and we certainly couldn’t look past the flaws we brought up nightly.
Eventually, I realized that we were missing the whole point – we were trying to love ourselves in a different way than we loved others. To love ourselves, we needed to do it in the same way.
When Mary told me that she thought she wasn’t good enough for her boyfriend, it upset me. I loved her dearly and knew that she was worth so much more than some guitar-playing frat boy. She was (and is) beautiful, clever, and talented. I’d never liked her boyfriend.
I tried to love myself by taking long showers with candles, treating myself to nice food, and finding makeup I wasn’t allergic to. But I wasn’t loving myself so much as I was loving my body. My physical self was the only part of me that I could see as external. I didn’t understand how to love myself emotionally because I didn’t know how to have a relationship with myself.
How to Love Yourself
Loving yourself is treating yourself the same way you would treat a loved one. You need to encourage, comfort, and forgive yourself the same way and to the same extent as you would a friend, parent, or sibling.
Imagine a loved one comes to you and confesses that they feel like they’ve accomplished nothing. You’d likely be quick to point out what they have accomplished. You’d reassure them and tell them that they’re just in a slump.
When we feel the same way, we rarely comfort ourselves. We let the negative thoughts sit and fester when we should be confronting them and reassuring ourselves the same way we would reassure a loved one.
Whenever you begin to have negative emotions or worries, think about what you would tell a friend who came to you with the same complaint. Tell yourself what you would tell them. Sometimes, it’s the same. Often, however, how we respond to others is much kinder and more forgiving than what we tell ourselves.
To love ourselves, we must realize that we make mistakes, need affection, and deserve the same chances as anyone else. And once we’re able to show ourselves this kind of love, we’ll expect the same love from others, leading us to healthier and more fulfilling relationships.
*Venn is a member of the team at Woodruff Family Law Group. She is not an attorney, but speaks candidly and wisely out of her own experience. These opinions are the opinions of Venn Crawford and not necessarily the opinions of Woodruff Family Law Group.