One of the most important pieces of living a happy and healthy life is loving yourself. You’ve most likely heard the phrases, “If you can’t love yourself, how can you love anyone else?” and, “If you can’t love yourself, how can anyone else?”
Of course, the implied meaning of these phrases is not entirely accurate, but there is a kernel of truth: It’s hard to have a healthy relationship with anyone else when you don’t have a healthy relationship with yourself.
6 Ways to Boost Self-Love
If you’ve struggled with showing yourself love, the following exercises will help you boost your self-love and extend understanding, compassion, and forgiveness to yourself. Keep an open mind and give these exercises a try—they just might have a profound effect on how you relate to yourself and to others.
1. Differentiate your inner critic from your authentic self
A key step toward enhancing your self-compassion and self-love is acknowledging your inner critic. This may sound counterintuitive, but it really is very important to be able to determine when your inner critic is speaking and when your optimistic and confident inner self is speaking.
Grab a journal or notebook and open it to a fresh page. Draw a small self-portrait in the center of the page. Don’t worry—it doesn’t matter if it’s good! Next, draw several thought bubbles sprouting out from your portrait. In these thought bubbles, write down your most frequent negative thoughts about yourself. This might be a little painful, but try to push through it. Once you’ve filled in all the bubbles, take a moment to recognize that all of these thoughts come from your inner critic. Label the portrait “My Inner Critic.”
Next, flip the page and do the exercise again, but with a focus on alternate ways to think about each bit of self-criticism. Label the portrait “My Authentic Self.”
Whenever your negative thoughts start crowding out the good ones, return to these two pages to remind yourself that you are not your negative thoughts and that they don’t need to define you.
2. Start a positive focus group
This may be the most difficult of these exercises, because it requires the commitment of several people; however, it is also one of the most impactful. A “positive focus group” is a group activity that involves each member taking turns as the subject of a discussion of their strengths and positive qualities. Here’s how you do it:
Enlist a group of friends and family members. If you have trouble getting people to agree to it, try reminding them that they will benefit from this exercise as well. Set aside an hour or so (depending on how big your group is) and gather in a comfortable and private space, such as someone’s living room. Choose someone to take the first turn, then engage in a discussion of everything you like about him or her: their strengths, their skills and talents, the qualities that make them a good friend or family member, and anything else you appreciate about them. Repeat until each group member has been the subject of the discussion.
If this sounds uncomfortable to you, then you’re probably one of those who stands to benefit the most from it! When you have low self-esteem and don’t show yourself enough love, it’s vital that you learn to recognize the good in yourself and believe in the positive things others say about you.
3. Create self-love affirmations
You may have already come up with some affirmations to boost your confidence, but you can also come up with some additional affirmations to enhance your self-love. Follow these guidelines to create effective self-love affirmations.
Write your affirmation in the present tense. Focus on accepting yourself for who you are, right here and now. Show yourself love in your current state.
Use a first-person perspective. Don’t write statements about yourself as if you were someone else; write them from your own point of view. Here are a few good examples of self-love affirmations:
I am a good person.
I am worthy of love and respect.
I accept and love myself exactly as I am.
Repeat your affirmations at least once a day. It can be helpful to set a time of day for your affirmations to make sure you always remember to do them. Many people repeat their affirmations in the morning to get a boost of self-love for the rest of their day. If at any point you feel yourself lagging in self-love during the day, go ahead and repeat them again. Don’t worry about overdoing it—you’re in no danger of developing too much self-love.
4. Commit to the equality principle
If someone asked you whether you believe that all people are equal, what would you say? You’d probably say yes, right? But you’ve also probably had plenty of negative thoughts about yourself, like, “I’m not as good as her,” or “They’re so much better than I am,” or even, “I don’t deserve to have what she has.” Everyone has these thoughts at some point, but it’s unhealthy to think them too often.
To neutralize these negative thoughts and shift how you see yourself, try committing to the equality principle wholeheartedly. The equality principle is the principle that we are all equally human and deserving of dignity, love, and happiness—including you!
On days when you’re feeling particularly down, it might be tempting to make an exception for yourself—but remember that the equality principle has no exceptions. If everyone is deserving of love and happiness, you are deserving too.
If you’re having trouble embracing this principle and accepting that there are no exceptions, try this technique: picture a dear friend or beloved family member, and remind yourself that since there are no exceptions, you are just as deserving of good things as they are. It’s harder to keep up the negative thoughts when you have to apply them to someone you love!
5. Give yourself a loving touch
We often show others we love them through touch. We give our friends and family members hugs, kiss them on the cheek, hold hands with our significant other, and give back rubs or neck massages when we’re feeling especially generous. This physical gesture of love can be extended to yourself too!
The next time you’re feeling upset, sad, or worried, soothe yourself with a loving touch. Try any of the following, or go with whatever works best for you:
• Place one or both hands over your heart and rest them there for a few deep breaths.
• Give yourself a hug by placing your hands on your shoulders.
• Use one hand to gently hold the other.
• Stroke one arm with your opposite hand for a few minutes.
• Place a hand on each cheek and gently cradle your face.
• Wrap your hands around your belly and give a gentle squeeze.
• Run your nails lightly down your neck and/or over your shoulders.
You may feel a little silly or self-conscious at first, but these are excellent ways to show yourself a little bit of love.
6. Repeat self-love mantras
To carry your sense of self-love with you all day, wherever you go, try coming up with a mantra—words, phrases, or short sentences that help keep you focused on the things that matter to you. They’re similar to affirmations, except affirmations are about boosting self-love through self-acceptance. Mantras generally come from a doing perspective—they are focused on what you’re capable of—while affirmations come from more of a being perspective.
When coming up with your mantra, follow these simple guidelines: Your mantra can be anything from one word to several sentences, but generally the shorter the better. Your mantra should remind you of something you’ve accomplished or something you are good at. It should also make you feel good about yourself. For example, if you’re proud of your success in beating a drug addiction or healing from a major injury, you might choose a mantra like, I have overcome obstacles before. I will overcome obstacles again—or even just Overcome.
Keep this mantra a secret tool for your use only, a special thing that you share only with yourself. Bring it out whenever you’re struggling with fear, anxiety, anger, restlessness, or any other difficult situation or emotion, and allow it to remind you of where you’ve come from, where you’ve been, and where you’re going.
Excerpted from My Pocket Positivity by Courtney Ackerman Copyright © 2018 Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Courtney E. Ackerman is a researcher and author of 5-Minute Bliss and My Pocket Positivity. She has a master’s degree in positive organizational psychology and evaluation from Claremont Graduate University in California. When she’s not working, she’s usually spending time with her dogs, reading books, visiting a nearby winery, or playing video games with her husband.