Our relationship with ourselves is the foundation for all other relationships. But it’s also one that we’re most likely to neglect or put on auto-pilot, without much thought of improving it.
According to author Daphne Kingma, “Loving yourself is the greatest work you will do in this life. In a sense, it is your only work.”
But accepting ourselves unconditionally isn’t easy for many of us.
What can help is taking small steps. Below, Trisha Savoia, a coach and clinical hypnotherapist, shared several steps to get you started.
1. Ask for what you need.
It’s important to speak up for yourself, and let others know your needs and boundaries, Savoia said. “Whether someone hears you or not, you change your perception of yourself by speaking up for what you need.”
Remember that people aren’t mind readers. Don’t assume that anyone knows your needs and limits until you communicate them clearly.
Setting boundaries and asking for what you need takes practice. Start with a small request, such as “I’d like to talk about something that’s been weighing on my mind” or “I had a horrible day. I really need a hug.”
Start with a small boundary, such as letting a call go to voicemail when you’re trying to meet a deadline or just relax at home; or changing the time of your lunch date because it’s inconvenient for you.
2. Share your stories.
Share the stories of your imperfections and supposed flaws with someone you trust. Talk about the mistakes you’ve made. Keeping these stories to ourselves often just magnifies and distorts them in our minds.
“By sharing it with someone we trust, we not only realize we probably aren’t the only ones who have felt the same way, but we also release the inner struggle and shame we had around that story,” Savoia said.
As author and researcher Brené Brown writes in her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power:
“Regardless of who we are, how we were raised or what we believe, all of us fight hidden, silent battles against not being good enough, not having enough and not belonging enough. When we find the courage to share our experiences and the compassion to hear others tell their stories, we force shame out of hiding, and end the silence.”
3. Feel your feelings.
“Allow yourself to feel what comes up for you. Know that it’s OK to feel that way,” she said. Express your feelings in healthy ways, such as by crying, journaling or exercising, Savoia said.
According to Beth Jacobs, Ph.D, in her book Writing for Emotional Balance: A Guided Journal to Help You Manage Overwhelming Emotions, feelings are made up of thought processes, sensory experiences and physical sensations. One way to experience your feelings is to explore them from all angles. Here’s a journaling technique from her book:
If this feeling was a color, it would be _________________
If this feeling was weather, it would be ________________
If this feeling was a landscape, it would be _____________
If this feeling was music, it would sound like ________________
If this feeling was an object, it would be __________________
Accepting yourself may feel impossible. But instead of viewing self-acceptance as an overwhelming, never-gonna-happen attempt, think of it as taking small steps every day – steps that help you create a healthier and happier life in the first place.