You’ve probably heard the phrase “you can’t love someone else until you love yourself,” and you probably also have your own interpretation of it. Personally, that phrase has always rubbed me the wrong way. Where are you supposed to learn how to love? There is no one who can teach you how to like yourself, let alone love. On the other hand, if you fully and truly love another person, you’ll know how to treat them, and by extension, yourself.
Okay, that’s a tall order, I know, so let me break that down a bit. Let’s start with why it’s difficult to like ourselves to begin with.
Imagine two stories your local newspaper just published. One describes all your ground-breaking achievements, the beautiful things you’ve created, complete with interviews from all the people who love you. The other is a hateful article, one that recounts all the mistakes you’ve ever made, every time you’ve been wrong and gleefully points out all your flaws. Which one would you pay more attention to?
I think I can safely say we’d all gravitate towards the negative story, I would. That gravitation is called negative bias; the outstanding human ability to laser-focus on the worst possible outcome. It’s a safety blanket of sorts. Living like everyone is out to get you makes you feel less vulnerable to outside attacks. No one can break you down harder and further than yourself. But that negativity right there, where we begin to shift our view to see ourselves as threats, that’s where we lose our ability to love ourselves.
A lot of our struggle with self-worth stems from our relationship with vulnerability. Being vulnerable makes us feel weak, and on top of that, it’s really, really scary. Being open and honest and then getting rejected is one of the hardest things to cope with, but we need it to grow and build connections with other people.
Think about the people who are important to you, like your friends or family. Then think about the way you treat yourself. Would you say half the things you say to yourself to them? Would you break down their confidence and criticize the things they love? Of course you wouldn’t! So why on earth do we treat ourselves like the enemy when we should be our own best friend?
Start small, like exchanging dark humor for praise. When you make a mistake, try replacing the automatic “I’m such an idiot/burden/failure, etc.” with “I made a mistake, but I’ll do better next time.” Make time for the things that make you happy, not just the skills that benefit others or are profitable. Simple changes in the way you speak to and about yourself can have massive effects on your opinion.
Treating yourself like a friend is a skill that requires plenty of practice. It’s easy to slip up and be cruel again, but we need to remember that self-love is an ongoing process. We’ll never be perfect, and that’s okay! Practicing even the basic skills can skyrocket your self-worth and improve your relationships with others as a result. I really hope that one day you will wake up celebrating how wonderful you are. I think every person deserves that.