My clients-not unlike you I’m sure, really struggle to love themselves. Let’s be real-they struggle to even like themselves let alone love themselves. And because my program is focused on using love to take care of ourselves, to guide our eating decisions, to view ourselves, this is a process they go through…learning to love themselves.
It doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t even necessarily happen fully in the course of the 3 month program…the process of deprogramming the way you see yourself and reprogramming it to be more loving and compassionate doesn’t have an exact timeline. Not learning to love yourself fast enough does not need to be added to the list of things you beat yourself up for.
So what is the process? What does it entail? I want to give you a roadmap to help you begin to work through it.
1. Raise awareness
The first step on the path is awareness. We need to raise awareness of how we currently think and feel about ourselves. So start with writing the story of you right now…who are you? What makes up your identity? Think not just about roles and accomplishments, but go deeper to the characteristics that you think make you you. Be totally honest and transparent. Don’t sugar coat it or feign a positive optimistic view of yourself. As you tell the story-tell the story of you at your best and your worst. We want to be aware of our current conception in its entirety.
As you think about your roles…notice where you are judging the way you show up in that role. For example-do you think you are a good mom or a mediocre one? Do you think you are good at your job or bad at it? Let all those judgements come out. If you are judging, we want to be aware because it is impacting your view of yourself.
As you think about the characteristics that make you you, notice any judgment there. Do you want to discount or minimize or qualify things…like I’m pretty patient, or I’m loving most of the time, or I’m kinda organized but only in some areas, in others I’m a hot mess. All of this is contributing to how you think and feel about you.
Think about where you think your worth or value comes from. What were you taught or told about where your value comes from? What were some of the unspoken messages you got about your value and where it comes from?
– Going through your stories
Now go back through your story and think about where your current view of you came from. Sometimes I have my clients make a timeline of important or impactful events from their past that have shaped their self-concept. It doesn’t have to just be events…it can be things people said, or messages you got from society or the way you felt that shaped how you thought about yourself going forward.
Some examples from my own timeline. I went through puberty in 5th grade. I grew a few inches to my current height of 5’3-which made me one of the taller girls in class at the time. My 2 best friends had not gone through puberty and were just pretty tiny people anyway and so I started to perceive myself as a big girl. I was average weight, but I started to see myself as overweight in comparison to what I had been and what they were.
And then, at around the same time my parents suggested my dad and I go on the American Heart Association diet program together which required us to go to a meeting and weigh in and then eat a prescribed diet. I was the only kid at this meeting with a bunch of middle aged adults. This to me was a confirmation that my body must be too big and wrong and needed fixing.
I hadn’t ever thought that before, but I started to think that at this point in my life. I started to feel like an other…and learned what deprivation felt like for the first time. I started to think something was different and bad about me. I was embarrassed and ashamed.
Deprivation drove me to go a little crazy about eating the foods I wasn’t allowed. I started to sneak sugary snacks whenever I could and spend all of my allowance on treats and candy. This goes on my timeline as a series of events that changed the way I viewed and thought of myself.
I also had an experience when I was even younger where I remember my grandma was visiting and I wanted to draw her a picture and so I drew this cute bunny sitting on the beach under a rainbow beach umbrella and I wrote “life’s a beach and so are you” on the page. My little 6 year old brain did not know that the word beach in this phrase was not actually referring to the beach. The word beach was replacing a swear word and this was actually an insult. I can see how cute and funny it is now…but when I handed my grandma this picture I had spent all this time on and was really proud of and all of the grown ups at the table laughed at it…all I felt was humiliation.
I can still remember what that felt like and that I ran down to my room and cried on my bed. They apologized and told me they were laughing because it was so cute and innocent, but I could not forget the feeling of humiliation that I felt.
It didn’t feel like…those grown ups were pretty insensitive, that picture was really sweet-you should be proud. It was like something is wrong with you, you should’ve known better. In the future…you need to watch out for this. You need to make sure you know what’s going on, that you are informed and smart and don’t express your feelings too openly just in case they make fun of you and you feel this again.
It seems like a small thing, a small moment, but it made a big impact.
You may have impactful things like your mom always making comments about sucking your stomach in or talking negatively about her own body which made you look at yours differently. Or that comment someone made about you in the hall at school that you overheard or the celebrities on your favorite tv show that talked about how fat they felt even though they were 3 sizes smaller than you…which made you think that you must be fat and that fat was bad.
Look back over the things from your past that shaped how you think and feel about you now.
And ask this question…
How much of it was based on a choice or decision you made? How much was out of your hands…meaning due to someone else’s words that happened at a particularly susceptible or vulnerable time in your development, someone else’s decisions, genetics, family or cultural or economic circumstances.
Be willing to see how much of the past was no fault of your own. Notice the things you did to survive and stay safe. Listen to episode 124 about my favorite belief “It makes perfect sense” to see how the things you did, the way you reacted, the things you believed all make perfect sense based on how your brain is meant to function: to avoid pain, seek pleasure, and conserve energy.
2. Forgive yourself for the past
The next step is to forgive yourself for the past. Forgiveness is a choice we can make…it takes time to truly be able to feel and embrace forgiveness, but it is a gift that you can give to yourself that allows you to leave the past in the past and move forward.
When we refuse to forgive and let go, we are choosing to drag our past with us through the present and into the future. It is a heavy load and requires attention and energy that would otherwise be used for growth and progress and skill building. So work toward forgiving yourself for all you did to survive, all of the choices you made that you regret, all of the ways you mistreated yourself, all of the times you beat yourself up, and especially for the way you have talked to and about yourself.
Which leads us to the next step.
3. Change how you talk about yourself
Changing the conversation. The way that you talk about yourself, the way you describe yourself, the way you talk to yourself in your head, the way you judge yourself. That is a critical component of being able to invite more love for you into your life.
If you are talking to yourself like you are your worst enemy, if the way that you speak about yourself is full of judgment and criticism, if your reaction to your unaligned choices is vitriol and disgust…there will be no room for love. The self-loathing will be too thick.
So once you have raised awareness and increased your understanding of where your current self-concept is and why based on your past, and have chosen to forgive yourself for all you have done to survive…I want you to imagine yourself at the age that you think you were the most innocent. If you have a picture of you from this time period…even better. Start listening to how you talk to yourself and imagine you have to say these same things to that little innocent human. The hateful words, the unkind sentiments, the cruel judgments…you are talking to her. She is you. Your value never changed from there. You are still that little girl with more years under your belt.
If what you tell yourself, what you say to yourself, the way you judge yourself based on how you appear and the choices you make…if those conversations feel mean and inappropriate to say to little you, then they are mean and inappropriate to say to you.
This is one place where I won’t tell you it takes time to speak kindly and be nicer in your words to yourself. You can decide right now to not speak to yourself that way anymore. You don’t have to turn into your number one fan in an instant, but you can stop talking to you like your worst enemy in one second. Just say-I am not going to say those things about me anymore. I am not going to talk to myself like that anymore.
–Practice, Practice, Practice
If the conversation is always focused on the negative, then practice counter arguing some positive. If your brain is always talking about what you lack, expand your thinking and the conversation to what you possess as well. Maybe you don’t feel like you’re great at keeping your commitments to you, but do you keep your commitments to others? What are you great at?
If that feels too hard, then practice neutral statements.
If you think mean thoughts like “I am disgusting”- on the regular…you don’t have to go straight to practicing “I’m perfect the way I am.” You can start with, I am the way I am right now. This is what I look like. This is the size of my stomach.
Stop arguing with reality and making it worse than it needs to be. This is what you look like. This is what you weigh. This is the way you are. Neutral acceptance is a step toward compassionate acceptance and eventually love.
Awareness and understanding leads to forgiveness which leads to speaking and regarding yourself with love and kindness. Loving yourself is not just thinking you look good or are good. It’s how you show up for yourself in each moment and each area of your life.
You know my favorite John Mayer line: Love ain’t a thing, love is a verb. Show you that you love you.
One last bonus challenge for you. Decide what makes you valuable and worthy. Now…not what you have been taught or picked up along the way. What you want to derive your value and worth from.
Head over to join my group coaching where we go through this process in even more detail and with help, guidance and support. Head to itbeginswithathought.com/apply.