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If I could tell you one thing, it’s that you desperately need your own love more than anything and I’m being serious and not “woo-woo” at all.

Loving ourselves is not about thinking about how great we are (but you are pretty great). It’s not about buying ourselves flowers and mani/pedis (although you deserve a massive bouquet and that paraffin wax thing). It’s not about trying to decide if loving yourself right now means eating a piece (or two) of chocolate cake because here’s a finger to the body image patriarchy or if it’s going to the gym instead because here’s a finger to glutton.

Loving ourselves is something deeper.

Anyone can bring you flowers and gifts. Anyone can say nice things to you and tell you how great you are. However, when we think about a truly loving partnership, love isn’t about flowers and gifts and dinners. It’s about the small acts of courtesy and thoughtfulness. It’s about how someone has your back. It’s about being loved and cared for when you haven’t showered in two days and just threw up again with a stomach flu. It’s about being supported and encouraged when you are full of doubt about the interview. It’s about being handed a cup of coffee made just how you like it, or a compassionate hug at the end of a terrible day letting you know that you are still worthy even though you really f-ed up. Self-love is about deeply caring for ourselves.

Here are 5 ways to cultivate self-love:

  1. Deliberately, consistently, fiercely take care of basic needs. Keep it simple. Are you hungry? Do you need a nap? Do you need to go to the bathroom? Do you need to stop and stretch? Would it be good to put yourself to bed early? Spend some time really exploring what your basic needs are and what may be getting in the way of taking care of them. This is a simple, but powerful, way over time to change how you feel about yourself.
  2. Have your own back. Everyone I work with in therapy comes in with a negative view of themselves and regularly responds to challenges by beating themselves up. Believe it or not, this is a part of you that is actually trying to keep you safe from rejection in one form or another. We spend a lot of time growing another part that has your back. This is a part that is on your team and sees the best in you all the time. This is a caring, compassionate voice and fiercely loyal defender who says that you are worthy. No. Matter. What.
  3. Allow your vulnerability. You know what? We are all carrying young parts of ourselves around in these big grown up bodies who are just trying to do the best they can. And it’s too much. There’s too much to do. Too many people to please. Too much responsibility. These young parts are scared and overwhelmed and they have legitimate needs. They need to be acknowledged. They need to be seen. They need to be heard. They need to be met with comfort and kindness. As actual children, we needed these things from others. As adults, we need these things first from ourselves. We can do that now. We can pause, notice our fear, our sadness, our anger, our giddy excitement, our envy, our longing, our grief. We can acknowledge all of these feelings and provide a caring holding space for them.
  4. Practice setting boundaries. We can say no. We can ask for what we need and want. We can be honest about how we really feel. Healthy boundaries decrease anxiety and increase self-confidence and trust. As adults, we are responsible for taking good care of ourselves, our feelings, and our safety. Setting boundaries allows us to belong to ourselves.
  5. Practice self-compassion. This is the mother of all self-love practices. By giving kindness and comfort to ourselves we become less dependent upon imperfect others. We become able to create an inner world that is calm and kind and loving. We become able to know that we are worthy and always have been. We see our own goodness and no longer seek to demand this from others. We live from a deep inner well of gentle caring that empowers us to go out in the world and flourish.

So much of our suffering germinates and spreads through self-aggression and the unmet needs it tends. By learning to deeply love ourselves through habits of self-care (physical and emotional), we return to our true selves, our true, unshakable worthy, and we are afraid less and courageous more. You, my dear, are worthy of your own love, care, and protection.

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Karen J. Helfrich, LCSW-C

Avalon Psychotherapy Associates, LLC