We show up for our loved ones all the time in all kinds of ways. We bring sick friends soup and grieving friends casseroles. We create safe spaces for loved ones to share their most tender thoughts and feelings. We attend weddings and funerals. We listen. We try to be patient, kind, and understanding.
But we don’t exactly do the same thing for ourselves. Because, for so many of us, it doesn’t come as naturally.
One reason it’s tough to show up for ourselves is that we hold ourselves to a higher standard than we do our friends, family, and even complete strangers, said Sage Rubinstein, MA, LMHC, a Miami-based therapist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, addiction, and trauma.
“Others can make mistakes, but I’m a failure. Others are deserving, but I’m not. We are always the exception to some rule,” she said.
This stems from our self-esteem and self-compassion—or lack there-of. Which is shaped “by our culture, parents, upbringing, or other environmental influences.”
“We have a vision of how we think our lives should look, and when we don’t meet our expectations, there is often a sense of failure and unworthiness that is connected,” said Rubinstein, who practices at Miami Modern Counseling.
Another reason is that showing up for ourselves is a learned behavior that originates from childhood, said Samantha Moshiri, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in working with adolescents and adults with eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, as well as depression, and anxiety.
“We are born with the instinct to be attuned to our own needs and to actively attempt to meet them, in essence to show up for ourselves,” she said. But how this instinct evolves over time largely depends on our interactions with our caregivers. If a caregiver responds in a nurturing manner when a baby cries, that baby will likely grow up believing it’s safe to express their needs.
However, if our needs are “met with anger, hostility, upset, or inconsistency, [we] learn to make accommodations for other people in order to garner a different reaction—thus begins a pattern of putting other people’s needs before our own,” Moshiri said.
We can show up for ourselves in many different ways.
Showing up for ourselves can mean noticing our emotional and physiological experiences, Rubinstein said. “By turning inwards and connecting with what we’re truly thinking and feeling, we then become better equipped to figure out what it is we need in that moment and then, most importantly, honor that need.”
Showing up for ourselves also means not depriving ourselves. Rubinstein regularly hears both clients and friends discuss different joys—love, laughter, food—as rewards for hard work or discipline. However, we don’t need to earn these things, because “we are all deserving.”
If you don’t think you’re worthy of kindness and care, that’s OK. Act, anyway. Because you don’t have to wait until you feel great about yourself to act that way. Even though developing and strengthening your sense of self-worth is imperative, it also can take time, Moshiri said. And “you deserve to start showing up for yourself now.”
You can do that by taking small steps—such as trying the below ideas. Plus, “by taking action steps to show up for yourself, you might just start to feel more self-confident and worthy along the way,” Moshiri said. Because actions can alter our mindset, mood, and even our deepest beliefs.
Explore how you actually treat yourself. Sometimes, we don’t even realize the ways in which we act toward ourselves—what we say, what we do—especially when we’re struggling. This is why Rubinstein suggested taking Kristin Neff’s self-compassion quiz, which provides a greater understanding of just how self-compassionate you are—or aren’t.
Set boundaries. When setting boundaries, “first and most importantly you need to know what you do and don’t want,” said Maegon Renee, a therapist and coach for empath entrepreneurs and founder of The Aligned Lifestyle Program. “If you’re unclear on what you value, then you’ll have trouble communicating that to others.”
She also stressed the importance of communicating your needs in an assertive way: You respectfully and clearly tell someone what you want.
Moshiri noted that setting boundaries is “saying no to people and things that would jeopardize you honoring your own needs.” She shared these examples: saying no to a friend’s invitation because you’re tired and staying in would help you to feel relaxed and refreshed; saying no to taking on more clients or projects, even though you’re capable of doing so; saying no to adding another sport or extracurricular activity for your kids. (Because, as Moshiri said, your kids don’t need a perfect schedule or parent; they need a happy parent who rests when you need to rest, and says no when your to-do list gets too long.)
According to Renee, if you don’t feel comfortable saying no, offer an alternative, such as: “I’m unable to speak at the conference, but I know someone else in my field who would be amazing at it!” It’s also helpful to have some canned responses to lessen your anxiety and discomfort over setting boundaries, she said.
Live according to your values. According to Rubinstein, we can live our values through small acts. For example, if adventure is an important value for you, you frequently try new restaurants, new foods, and new hiking trails. If courage is a value, you speak up for yourself during work meetings and face fears like public speaking.
To identify your core values, Rubinstein suggested finding a list of core values (like this one), and circling the ones that resonate with you. Then narrow your values down to five. Think about how you can act on these values on a daily basis.
“Keep in mind that your values are fluid and can change. You can repeat this exercise every month or couple months and see what values change and which remain the same,” she added.
Talk to yourself with kindness. Start off by acknowledging small victories, Rubinstein said. “This could mean acknowledging efforts at work or at school, being proud of yourself for tackling tasks on a to-do list, or practicing gratitude for qualities about yourself that you like.”
Also, be kind to yourself when you’re in pain (versus saying you need to snap out of it, or you shouldn’t feel this way). For instance, you might say: “This is a moment of suffering,” or “This hurts”; and “Suffering is a part of life, or “I’m not alone”; and “May I be kind to myself,” or “May I learn to accept myself as I am.”
Carve out one-on-one time. According to Moshiri, this is one of the best ways we can show up for ourselves. How you spend this time will vary. That is, your alone time might be a 20-minute meditation, or it might be a 5-minute body scan. It might be waking up 10 minutes earlier so you can sip your coffee on the porch in silence. Or it might be spending half the day attending an art exhibit, and then taking yourself out to lunch.
Nourish your body. This looks different for everyone, too, Renee said. But at its core, nourishing our bodies includes getting enough sleep and participating in physical activities, she said. Some of Renee’s clients find yoga, massages, and laughter to be invaluable for nourishing their bodies.
Showing up for ourselves may feel unfamiliar. And that’s OK. Because the more you set boundaries, prioritize your needs, live by your values, approach yourself with kindness, carve out alone time, and nurture your body, the more comfortable it’ll become—and the more your beliefs will shift to Yes, I matter. Of course, I do. I always have.