This article was written by Karen Nimmo, a clinical psychologist specializing in health and wellbeing.
Self-love as a concept is a bit soppy, isn’t it?
We’ve all heard the catch phrases: “If you don’t love yourself, you can’t possibly love others," “The first person you need to fall in love with is yourself,” and “You need to be your own best friend."
The truth is that many psychological difficulties are rooted in low self-worth — beliefs that are ingrained in our psyche from childhood or that have been fanned by the negative feedback we’ve had from the world.
When we don’t believe something is “good” or “worthy” enough, it tends to follow that we don’t bother investing in it — and that is particularly true of ourselves.
But, despite the clichés, it is also true that a sound sense of self — a basic appreciation of who you are — can protect you in tough times and help you recover more quickly from all kinds of distress.
What does loving yourself even mean?
Self-worth, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect — call it what you will — is a concept that grew out of the early self-help movement. It’s thought to have originated with psychologist William James who was one of the first to talk about “attitude to oneself.”
Perhaps he hung out a lot with his brother, writer Henry James, who in his novel Portrait of a Lady (1881) penned the best self-love quote I’ve ever read: “She had an unquenchable desire to think well of herself…one should try to be one’s own best friend and to give oneself, in this manner, distinguished company.”
Self-worth shifts between time and place. It’s natural to feel better about ourselves at certain times and ages; our self-worth can also fluctuate between the different areas of our lives. So you might have a woman who feels great about herself in the corporate arena, but has very little confidence in relationships. Or a man who knows he’s a great family man, but berates his physical self because he can’t lose weight.
What stops me from loving myself?
Psychologists see three key traps to self-worth, which can bite hard if you’re not aware of them:
1. Basing self-worth on tangible things: Like driving a classic convertible, owning a beach mansion, or banking a six-figure income. Some people even use their kids’ success to measure themselves. It’s dangerous to use “stuff” as a gauge of success , because sadly, it doesn’t make people like you, and if it all goes wrong materially, you may not have enough internal fortitude to recover.
2. Comparing ourselves with others: Comparison may well be the biggest thief of self-worth, because it positions us according to what others have done or have, so wiping out our satisfaction with our own achievements and possessions. When you catch yourself comparing yourself with anyone, stop. There will always be richer, cooler, and slimmer people than you. Instead, focus on what you’ve done well that day, no matter how small.
3. Excessive need for approval: Needing outside sources to confirm you’re okay in the world is very common and fraught with danger. It’s human to want validation from others, but we also need to be able to self-gauge when we’ve done well and give ourselves appropriate praise (and reward).
Two Start-Up Strategies for Building Self-Worth
First, what not to do, because the self-help world is full of unhelpful advice. Do not stand in front of the mirror chanting positive affirmations because it won’t work unless you genuinely believe what you are saying.
Identify what is true. Pick one of your strengths, something you have evidence for. For example, if you are a kind person, just remind yourself you are kind, run through a couple of examples of your kindness, then go do something kind. Or if you want to lose weight and you’ve been for a walk, praise yourself for that specific act, tell yourself you made a positive step towards your goal.
Go do something alone. People with low self-worth often find it very hard to spend time alone contentedly because they rely on drawing energy from others. They use other people to position and define themselves. It’s the biggest trap of all because people — even friends — can be fickle, and when you are forced to be alone you’ll feel anxious. So go on, date yourself. (Not exclusively — that would be weird.)
You don’t have to come home with flowers and chocolates for yourself. It’s a nice idea, but it could get expensive. Just nurture your mind, body, and spirit, and take yourself out for some solo fun. Since yours is the only relationship you can’t leave; you might as well pour some love into it.
This post originally appeared on <a target="blank" href="https://medium.com/on-the-couch/why-you-should-date-yourself-8e979593b2df">Medium and was written by Karen Nimmo, a clinical psychologist specializing in health and wellbeing._