“Love Yourself”. Open any lifestyle magazine or visit any self care blog, and those words will be there somewhere. “Love Yourself” is listed as the most important thing we can do; it’s the key for happy relationships, beautiful bodies, sound mental health and personal growth and fortune. Possibly this wisdom is accompanied by pictures of photoshopped models laughing at salad or doing yoga in tiny pants.
It’s a lifestyle essential, like tampons or hand sanitiser. It’s available to everyone, everywhere, no matter their size, shape or personality. It’s the one thing in this crazy world that we can all have, and best of all, it’s free!
If you buy into these articles but are left feeling like you’re a failure for not being able to achieve what they claim is the ideal, do not despair. These steps will help you build your self love, and you can apply it to whatever lifestyle you want.
If your bullshit detector goes haywire at these articles (like mine does), then these steps will still help you develop your self love, and you can then apply it to whatever lifestyle you want!
Self Love is not easy. It’s one of the most elusive, difficult to cultivate and tricky to grow “plants” of our personal mental greenhouses. It’s the venus fly-trap of plants; delicate, easy to murder with accidental neglect or the wrong treatment and ultimately, to a lot of us, not worth the effort. We have far more important plants to tend to, like the nasturtiums of depression that are taking over the entire greenhouse, or the spider plants of anxiety that won’t stop making more baby plants! OK, the metaphor got away from me a bit there.
The point is, self love is not easy, and it’s not immediately available for everyone. For many people, it is an impossibly far away destination on a long, painful journey through mental health issues and learned negative behaviours.
I’m not an expert or any kind of guru; I’m just a girl with a psychology degree, a knack for writing, and crippling Clinical Depression and Anxiety that I’ve been battling for most of my life. These Baby Steps to Self Love are my baby steps. The ones I’ve used over the last 8 months to dig myself out of a particularly grim acute episode. I am in no way done with my learning and I still have a lot of self loathing, but these steps are weapons in my arsenal against that. Some days they are easier to use than others, and that’s OK.
As my journey continues, I’ll keep sharing my experiences and insights with you. I hope that you find them useful or at the very least, laugh at some of my jokes! (As with my last article, “Baby Steps to Self Care, I would like to add that I have worked with a therapist and Dr as well as using prescription medication during this time, which is invaluable. If you are in a dark place, please seek professional help. Having a strong support network helped me to develop the list below, which is why I'd like to share what I've learned.)
Trust your instincts - Everyone has moments where they feel a little sensation; a tug in your abdomen maybe, or a flash of thought that disagrees with what you are experiencing and then is swept away by your conscious mind. Maybe even a more dramatic sensation such as nausea or a panicky feeling that isn’t like a panic attack, more of a sense of wrongness . The word “instinct” brings up thoughts of animals or uncontrolled behaviour, but actually what it is describing is the work of our subconscious mind, which is a lot faster at picking up subtleties and seeing the whole situation that our everyday, conscious mind. Our subconscious also isn’t burdened as much with the little voice - and if you identify with this article, you know what that voice is; the nasty, negative voice that likes to ruin our good days and run amok on our bad days.
Unfortunately, a lot of the trauma that leads us to this darkness has taught us to suppress our instincts, to ignore them or even to think they are bad and actively turn away from them!
That subconscious mind, that “instinct” is a guiding light out of our own personal darkness, if we can get used to listening to it. It helps identify when our behaviour is fuelled by self hate or self destruction, it shows us when we are falling into old patterns that we’ve worked hard to break. It protects us from agreeing to things that are not in our best interests.
I originally had this at the bottom of the list, because it’s the hardest thing to do when you are used to hating yourself. However, as I worked my way through my tips, I realised that all of them have some element of this! So don’t worry if you find this particular step crazy-difficult at first - it will become easier with time and practice. Doing the other things will help you tune in to your instincts and practice listening to them as well.
See yourself in others - everywhere! Online, in print magazines, in social media - seek out positive examples of your most disliked traits. Then make them part of your everyday experience. For example, I sought out inspirational plus sized people on instagram such as @mynameisjessamyn and @tessholliday and added them to my daily viewing. The aim is to normalise and de-stigmatise by regularly seeing positive examples of people that share your traits.
Show off your shine - even the most self loathing of us has something they don't hate quite as much as the rest (even if we can only acknowledge that on a really good day) Identify what that thing is, and flaunt it, take care of it! For me, it's my tattoos - I adore them and want to show them off! So I chose outfits that also show more flesh than I used to, because otherwise I'd be covering my tats. I started small, wearing vest tops to show off my upper arm tattoo, and yes at first I worried about my flabby arms and my gross armpits. After a while though it just became habit to wear sleeveless clothes and I often forget to hate on my arms. I’m now the proud owner of a back tattoo and an upper thigh as well, and I find myself looking for clothes that either show off my back a lot, or give me easy access to show people my legs!
Ditch the Treats -
"Treat: noun; an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure."
When we are fuelling self hate, we often allocate things that give us the most enjoyment as "Treats", to justify both restricting them and allowing ourselves to have them at all! I used to have Treat food, which I would restrict viciously unless I achieved some arbitrary goal, at which point I had "earned" the enjoyment of eating chocolate or icecream. The concept of treats is toxic for someone struggling with self hate - the idea that something which provides great pleasure should be "out of the ordinary", or something that is earned. We tend to set ourselves impossibly high goals, and so our treats become equally as impossible to achieve. Making life that much darker and harder. Ditch the concept! Make the former "Treat" a normal part of your experience as much as possible. At first you may well binge out on the previously “forbidden experience”, but humans get bored of the same things very quickly and it will pass. Resist the urge to create new "Treats" for less-than-hated moments. Instead, allow yourself to have the nice things as-and-when you want them! This approach reduce restriction-based self punishment and increases your own understanding and acceptance of your needs and wants.
Accept compliments - when I was really unwell, I was almost physically incapable of allowing a compliment to pass unchallenged. I had to respond, either by providing evidence to show that the speaker was wrong / didn't know the full story, or just by flat out denying their comments. The positive words from them were like weapons from which I had to defend myself. Sound familiar?
The good news is, you don’t have to switch to saying “thank you” overnight. Start by saying nothing at all! Keep your lips tightly sealed around the negative words dying to burst out. At first, you may think them anyway; work towards stopping that as well. This one takes a lot of time - it took me years to get to the point where I could thank someone for a compliment - however much I disagreed with them! Now, after even more years of practice, I usually respond by thanking them and either giving them additional information (such as where I got the clothes / tattoo / makeup) or the holy grail of compliments - thanking them and then complimenting them back!
Again, as with my last article, I’ll end by saying: don't be afraid of change. When you chose to make small changes, when you start you may feel very silly, and you will wonder what it is supposed to achieve. You may feel like it's achieving nothing at all! This is your mind naturally trying to prevent change - change is hard, takes energy and opens us to risk. Our minds instinctively avoid it and try to stick to old habits. Once you are doing these things regularly and they begin to feel more “natural”, that's a sign that your comfort zone has expanded to include them. Brilliant! You have started to form new, positive habits.
Now go find some more things to love about yourself!