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May 23, 2012

Learning To Love Yourself

By Leslie Karen Lobell, M.A.

According to the song written by Michael Masser and Linda Creed, Greatest Love of All "The greatest love of all / Is easy to achieve / Learning to love yourself / It is the greatest love of all." I agree that, for many people, self-love may be the greatest and most important love they ever experience in this lifetime. However, for so many people, "learning to love yourself" does not seem so "easy to achieve." For most of us, genuine self-love seems so elusive, so much harder to grasp than we expected. In my last piece, I spoke about the importance of self-love. Now, I would like to give some practical suggestions - some first steps -- on how to learn to love yourself.

I have made the analogy that, if you keep giving to others without giving to yourself, it is like pouring water from a vessel. If you pour and pour without ever refilling it, eventually, it will run dry. So, if we are like that vessel, how do we refill, recharge, re-energize, and replenish ourselves, so that we will have energy and love to give to others and to the world? The answer is: by loving and giving to ourselves, first. How do we begin to do this?

There are many ways for us to love and to care for ourselves... The possibilities are infinite. One way to learn to love yourself is to act as if you already do (i.e., "Fake it till you make it"). An important way to love yourself is to nourish and care for your body: eat healthy foods and exercise regularly.

You may want to "treat" yourself to things like a massage, a facial, a pedicure, or a gym membership. Taking breaks and having fun are important, as well.  Whether alone, with a friend, or with a partner, you may want to have a night out on the town: go out for a nice dinner, go dancing, and/or attend the theater, a concert, the ballet, or a movie. If you tend to be a workaholic – or if you are more a saver than a spender -- then perhaps it is time to take a well-deserved, long-overdue vacation. Of course, treating yourself does not need to involve great expense: you can take a bubble bath, eat dinner at home by candlelight, take a walk on the beach, swim in the ocean (those waters are very healing), or watch a sunset. Perhaps you enjoy taking time to paint or to write.

These are just a few ideas... You can put your own imagination to work...Another way to enhance self-love and self-esteem is to be aware of your self-talk (those things that you say to yourself inside your head). Speak to yourself in ways that are more kind, and less mean or abusive. Many of us have very harsh inner critics: When we make a mistake, this critical voice inside our head beats up on us, saying things like, "That was so stupid! ... I can't do anything right! ... What a loser!" We need to replace these negative messages with other, more positive ones. For example, "I made a mistake. That's okay: That is how I learn. I'll know better the next time." With awareness, over time, you can "catch yourself" when your self-talk is negative, and change the message to something more positive and "ego-enhancing."

Don't just "catch yourself being wrong." "Catch yourself being right." In other words, don't just catch the voice of your inner critic, and stop it from beating up on you. When you do something well, or when you find yourself saying the right things to yourself or to others, be sure to reward yourself: acknowledge yourself verbally, give yourself a pat on the back, or treat yourself to something special.

Yet another way you can learn to love yourself is by being in the practice of using positive affirmations. Take some time to come up with the qualities that you most want to embody. Choose about two or three to focus on for any one period of time. Then try this for at least a month: Repeat those qualities daily, telling yourself that you are those things, already. Whether or not you currently believe it, say it anyway... Again, "Fake it till you make it." For example, take time to tell yourself, each day, "I am happy and successful" or "I am beautiful and bright" or "I love my body: I feel healthy and in balance" or "I am loving, caring, and worthy of love" or "I am powerful and self-confident" ... whatever qualities you wish to be. You may want to write out these affirmations and post them someplace where you will see them regularly: on the bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator door, by the clock in your bedroom, atop your computer monitor, or somewhere in front of your desk at work. Even if, at first, you feel silly or uncomfortable repeating or reading these phrases, you may find that you grow into and become these qualities. You may even realize that you embodied them all along; you just had not realized it.

So, go ahead. Love yourself. Be good to yourself. Treat yourself well.  Replenish yourself. You will discover that, the more you love yourself, the more you will be able to give love to others - and the more others will want to be around you and give back to you. This is a win-win situation. Loving yourself will ultimately benefit the lives of others you encounter, as well as your own life.

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