We don’t start out this way.
Before we have any labels placed on us – before we’re told what’s possible for us or what we’re good at or bad at or how to behave – we don’t know to criticize ourselves.
It may be difficult for you to ever remember a time when you didn’t judge yourself. Or maybe you have no memory of being happy with yourself.
But you weren’t born this way. Maybe it’s like a hidden jewel lost by the passing of time, but there was a moment (even if it was before your conscious awareness) when you loved yourself – without conditions.
When you didn’t need to look at someone else to see how you were doing.
When you knew, deep down inside of you, that you were truly capable of anything you set your mind to.
When you didn’t look at all the ways you’re supposed to be. A time when you were free.
Maybe your lack of self-love developed from a critical parent. Maybe you had siblings that always seemed to have something they were good at and you never felt like you found that for yourself.
Or maybe, as far back as you can remember, you’ve felt that you didn’t belong or had a voice that whispered your insecurities before you realized it was happening.
But no matter how it developed or where you are right now, there is hope. There is hope for you to learn to love who you are, unconditionally and unapologetically. The way you feel toward yourself right now isn’t your fault.
You’ve been missing the pieces to the self-love puzzle (it’s a small puzzle, I promise). In fact, it only takes three pieces to put this puzzle together. Let’s see where the first piece fits in.
You Compare Yourself to Others
Do you remember the first time you compared yourself to someone else (and felt inferior because of it)? Do you remember the thoughts you had about yourself and the actions you chose to take or avoid because of this comparison?
You probably didn’t realize it at the time, but playing the comparison game has serious consequences on your ability to love yourself.
Because if what I’m “supposed” to be is always out there or whatever they have, then it’s unattainable. There’s no way we can ever become something that’s outside of ourselves.
I’ve found that we compare ourselves to others for one of two reasons:
(1) we don’t feel good enough with who we are, so we compare ourselves to those who we consider “less than” or “not as good as” us so we can feel better about ourselves
(2) we don’t like ourselves to begin with and we don’t know how to appreciate our own strengths and traits. Both of these come from a sense of lack and general feelings of unworthiness.
Here’s a quick way to know if you play the comparison game far too often:
- You often look to others for approval
- You find it difficult to give yourself credit
- When you hear of someone else’s accomplishments, you compare them to yours and then feel bad about yourself if you think they’re more successful than you
- You often find yourself judging what others say, do or look like more than you actually listen to them
- You only feel “good enough” if you think you’re the smartest, prettiest, most talented or most successful person in the room
- You usually don’t feel that great about your accomplishments until you realize someone else admires, respects or appreciates you for it
If you can relate to any of these statements, how do you feel after reading them? Do you feel empowered, confident or successful? I’m guessing you’re more likely to feel ashamed, sad or discouraged.
But aren’t you trying to feel BETTER about yourself when you do these things? Do you see how counterintuitive and unproductive comparing yourself can be?
Realize that you gain NOTHING from comparing yourself to others.
You don’t become less attractive because you see another attractive person.
You don’t become less accomplished because another person with a higher income or more possessions walks into the room.
Your value, worth and “good enough-ness” doesn’t fluctuate based on others. You are your own unique person and you can’t be compared to anyone else.
Ask yourself this question: what have you gained from comparing yourself to someone else? Do you usually feel better or worse about yourself when you judge other people?
Sure, there may be times you walk away thinking, “Well, at least I don’t do that!”.
But ultimately, I don’t believe anyone truly feels more confident from judging or comparing.
Because real self-esteem and self-worth comes from compassion, empathy, connection, understanding, and love. And all of those things are completely absent when you focus on being critical or judgmental of others and yourself.
When you compare yourself to others, you miss the most important thing about you: that NO ONE else can be YOU!
No matter what someone else has, does or accomplishes, there is no one else on this planet that has the exact same strengths, characteristics, thoughts, feelings, goals and understandings as you do.
When you understand this (and more importantly, accept it into your heart as truth), you’ll never need to compare yourself to anyone else again.
You Don’t Focus Enough on your Strengths
Although this is similar to comparing yourself to others, it’s more of an internal experience. If you consistently focus on what you want to improve – specifically the things that you consider to be your areas of weakness – you’ll feel like you can never measure up.
At first, this may sound counterintuitive to personal development. As a self-professed “self-help junkie”, I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t learning about ways to boost my time management skills, self-talk, communication skills or any other area of my “self” and my life.
But there’s a difference between being devoted to self-improvement (which is a great thing) and being overly preoccupied with what you’ve determined to be your less than desirable traits.
Here’s a quick way to measure whether or not you’re focusing too much on your weaknesses and not enough on your strengths:
- You’re always finding things you need to improve on and feel bad about yourself for not being a “better” person
- You feel like you have so many things to change that you become overwhelmed, upset or shut down
- You find it much easier to list your weaknesses than your strengths
- You have a hard time accepting a compliment and often play it off or dismiss it
- You see yourself as someone who is very far away from the person you want to be
- You can easily recall instances where your weaknesses kept you from achieving your goals
On the other side, here’s how to know if you have a healthy relationship with personal development:
- You enjoy learning about ways to improve yourself and get excited about the idea of implementing what you learn in your life
- You recognize your weaknesses, but can just as easily identify your strengths
- You accept compliments without feeling the need to dismiss them
- You generally feel good about who you are as a person
- You can easily explain your strengths to others
- When a new opportunity or challenge arises, you think about times in the past when you overcame similar obstacles or used your strengths to get what you wanted
- If something doesn’t go the way you planned or you don’t achieve your goals right away, you don’t take all the responsibility for the setback and instead focus on how to move forward or get better results next time
- You generally focus on what you can control (your thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, emotions) and not on what you can’t control (anything to do with other people or outside events)
Focusing on your strengths doesn’t mean you don’t recognize your areas of weakness. It just means that you spend more time utilizing and growing your strengths than you do trying to “fix” your weakness.
Positive psychology teaches us that we should stop trying so hard to “fix” what we don’t like and instead really expand our strengths.
The fact is, you’re not going to be great at everything. You’re going to have areas that you’re naturally more gifted at than others.
One of the greatest strengths of all is simply knowing what you’re great at and outsourcing or delegating even the things you’re just good at. Because what you’re good at, someone else is great at. So why not utilize the best of what we have to offer instead of worrying about trying to be perfect?
You Don’t Forgive Yourself
If you have trouble loving yourself, you almost certainly have trouble forgiving yourself.
The interesting or ironic thing about people who struggle with self-love is that they’re usually quite loving to others.
They’re usually known for being compassionate, understanding, gentle, and caring souls who often think of others before themselves. They give their time, energy and attention to the ones they love and even the ones they don’t know that well.
But when it comes to loving themselves? They don’t even know where to begin.
Why (or how) does this happen? How can someone be so loving, affectionate and attentive to others, yet fail to provide the same support to herself? It may seem odd at first, but I think there are a few underlying themes to this lack of self-love.
Read these statements and allow them to speak into your heart.
See if any of them resonate with some part of you, whether in the past or present.
- Growing up, you often felt dismissed, overlooked, rejected or betrayed (like a parent failing to give you the attention, love or affection you deserved or being abandoned by a parent or significant family member)
- You often feel the need to be perfect or you fear you’ll never be “good enough”
- You’ve stayed in relationships you knew weren’t good for you, but worried no one else would want to be with you
- You feel selfish for taking some “me time” or struggle to even know what you would want to do for yourself
- You consistently rate the needs of others as more important than your own
- You find it difficult to be happy or at peace if you know someone you care about is upset, irritated or anxious
- You struggle to set healthy boundaries and often find yourself feeling drained, overwhelmed or like the life is being sucked out of you
- You find it much easier to forgive someone else than yourself
- You often think of things you regret and still feel bad about them (even if it’s years later)
If any, all or most of these statements resonate with you, there’s something important you need to realize: it’s not your fault that you struggle to love yourself.
You were taught, whether explicitly through being told or implicitly through behavior, to put yourself last – to not give yourself what you need, to think of others more than yourself, and to consistently strive for perfection.
There are always reasons we struggle with certain things and taking all the credit for being in this situation will only bring more guilt and shame. (Quick note here: there’s a difference between taking responsibility for something and taking blame for something.
Responsibility focuses on what you have control over and what you can change (a good thing!), while blame implies a wrongdoing or that somehow you should’ve “known better” than to allow this, which leads to feeling disempowered and hopeless.)
But through all of this pain and frustration, there is hope. There is always a way out and there are ways to learn to love yourself unconditionally.
Here’s what you need to know: healing takes place in the body.
While you may intellectually realize that you had a rough childhood or that your parents’ lack of affection or dismissive attitude created some of these issues, knowing and understanding isn’t enough.
Being a self-development fanatic and being raised by an empathic and highly sensitive and intuitive mother, I’ve had my fair share of insight, understanding and awareness. But it wasn’t until I was actually willing to do the work – to allow myself to mentally and emotionally revisit old wounds and unhealed scars – that I truly began to feel free.
Here are some ways you can begin to do the same:
Get out your favorite journal and write with no obvious outcome in mind. The point is to “release” whatever you need to (even if you don’t know what that is yet). This is especially true for all you perfectionists and you “but it needs to have a goal!” people 🙂
(Trust me, I know because this applies to me exactly!)
I use to resist meditating (even though I’m an introvert and THRIVE on silence!). I thought it was counterintuitive to success and achievement, since I believed I needed to be DOING something to reach my goals.
But what I didn’t realize was how much I am actually DOING during the meditation process. You have so much value to add, so many important things to say and so much wisdom inside of you.
But you’ll never hear it if you don’t quiet your mind. You wouldn’t expect to hear one quiet voice in the midst of a large, noisy crowd, but that’s exactly what we’re expecting of ourselves when we refuse to get in silence. Schedule time in solitude to HEAR your own thoughts!
Affirmations can get a bad rap for just being “positive thinking”. But the most helpful affirmations are those that speak what you want for yourself and your life before it happens. What you say is creating your life.
So instead of using “I am…” statements, say “I am committed to…” – that way you don’t feel like you’re lying to yourself by saying you are something you know you’re not and you can fully feel whatever it is you’re committed to doing, being or creating.
Much like affirmations, visualizations can be underutilized and undervalued if we don’t understand its real purpose. Although visualizing the end goal is important, it’s even more important to visualize yourself doing the work it takes to achieve that end goal.
Your brain can’t tell the difference between something that’s happening and something that’s just vividly imagined. So be intentional about visualizing yourself writing that proposal, going on that run, writing that book, preparing for that presentation or whatever steps you need to take even MORE than you see yourself accomplishing your goal.
That way, when it comes time to do the work, it’ll be that much easier because you’ve already “seen” yourself do it!
I can’t highlight enough the importance of having supportive people in your world. I know this can be difficult, especially when you’re married, related to or living with the people that are really challenging your growth (and not in a good way).
But there are lots of ways to get the support you need. Aside from setting healthier boundaries with those around you (e.g., saying “no”, scheduling time away, removing yourself from arguments or conflicts, not reacting to negativity or manipulation), you can also find supports from books, podcasts, authors, motivational speakers, and even social media and Facebook groups.
Consider attending some type of support group in your community or even get involved in activities or events you enjoy. Especially if you’re an introvert like me, be protective of your time and energy.
If you feel more drained than energized when you leave someone’s presence (and not in a “I’m all peopled out” kind of way, but in a “they’re slowly draining the life from me” kind of thing), limit or eliminate your time with that person.
A big part of self-love is making choices that are good for you.
This may seem simple, but it’s actually quite profound. Because when you make choices that are good for you, it means everyone may not be happy with you. It means you may not do everything everyone wants you to.
It means you may actually choose to do something that’s healthy for you, even if it means setting limits with someone else.
For anyone who’s struggled with self-love, you KNOW how big this is. So don’t underestimate the importance of treating yourself well!
You are Lovable, Worthy & You are Enough!
Whether you’ve struggled with self-love your whole life or you’ve just hit a rough patch, you need to know that you’re not alone.
That you’re not weird, less than, unworthy, incapable or not enough.
That you’re not too old, too young, too inexperienced, too sensitive, too emotional, too different, too rejected or any other “too” you can think of!
Forgive yourself for the misunderstanding that you’re not enough.
Forgive yourself for wondering if you’re worthy enough.
Forgive yourself for ever believing the lie that you, your feelings, your thoughts, your dreams or your hopes didn’t matter.
Because when you cover anger, resentment, hate, bitterness, rejection, or shame with love, understanding, compassion, and forgiveness… your wounds heal, your heart is full and you start to understand the REAL truth: that you are free. You are enough.
And you don’t need to change or improve to make that a reality.
Did you find this article helpful? If so, would you mind sharing it with a friend? I appreciate your support in empowering each and every person to realize their true potential and worthiness.
As always, please feel free to leave me a comment or question below and I’d be happy to connect with you!
This is an amazing article chock-full of tips I need to keep super handy! I’ve been working on this by trying to be less affected by others. What I’ve really noticed is how much I do without taking my own preference into consideration with even little mundane details of life, such as if the window is open, where to park, where to sit in a meeting—seems I was making so many decisions based on what I thought everyone else would want. Surely, that’s the tip of the iceberg, so hopefully working on the small things will help with the big things!
Thank you for the thoughtful comment Calli! I’m so glad it was helpful for you 🙂 That’s really awesome that you’ve been more aware about how you put others’ needs before your own, even for small things. Sometimes putting ourselves last becomes second nature! I have no doubt that with more reflection and effort you’ll start seeing even bigger positive changes in your life. Just remember how valuable you are and that your needs are just as important as anyone else’s!