Radical self-love: How to accept yourself unconditionally
"In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act." This unattributed quote regularly does the rounds on social media as one of those motivational memes so many of us love to share. But when it comes to actually really liking yourself, it can be much trickier than just sharing some inspirational words. Many of us seriously struggle with self-love – not least because it's so easy to dismiss as some fluffy, hippy-ish notion that no one really has the time or energy to spend commit to. If you're used to putting everyone else's needs before your own, even just the idea of self-love can feel selfish, frivolous and narcissistic.
Fortunately, the self-love movement is growing, with more and more of us opening up to conversations about the importance of looking after ourselves better. But how do you actually go about learning to love and accept yourself unconditionally? Like most things worth having, there's no magic pill for self-love. You can't suddenly wake up one morning and decide to love and accept yourself unconditionally after years of self-neglect and self-deprecation. It's a long but life-changing journey of discovery and care, and the transformation you'll see is well worthwhile. The process will of course be different for everyone, but learning to incorporate small elements of self-care and self-compassion into your daily life is a crucial step towards a better relationship with yourself.
What is self-care?
This is where a lot of people baulk at the idea of self-love – because they associate the term 'self-care' with yummy mummy notions of 'me time', pampering, or indulgence. But while all of these things can and should be part of your self-care, it's not the whole story. In the words of legendary writer and activist Audre Lorde, "caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation". So while an important part of your self-care might be booking your aching shoulders in for a massage, or allowing yourself an hour in the bath with candles and a large glass of wine, so too is getting into the habit of speaking more kindly to yourself, caring for your body through a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise, and taking time out from your day to simply breathe, ground yourself in the moment, and reflect.
Depending on your needs and the areas you struggle with, it might be about learning to stop comparing yourself to others, and instead reminding yourself of what makes you unique and special. It might be practising saying 'no' to situations you're uncomfortable with, rather than people-pleasing all the time. Or it might be about celebrating every little achievement, no matter how big or small, or identifying things to be grateful for each day. It might be about learning to forgive yourself for your mistakes, or speaking to yourself with the kind of compassion you'd use to comfort a friend, rather than the harsh criticism that so many of us turn on ourselves.
Coaching your brain
Many people find daily affirmations a helpful way to reprogram your brain into the language of self-love – although they may make you cringe for the first few days. Try writing out a list of positive, present tense statements about yourself and reading them out each morning. They don't need to be big or ambitious – simple statements like "I am loving and kind", "I have a wonderful family", or "I deserve this promotion", can have a really powerful impact when, through daily repetition, you coach your brain to start truly believing and accepting them.
Be mindful of your thoughts, feelings and wants. Try to catch yourself as and when negative or self-critical thoughts arise, and challenge those thoughts with compassion and kindness. The more you tune in to what's going on inside your head, the more you'll feel empowered to act on what your mind and body are telling you they need, rather than what you or other people want from you. A big part of self-love is the ability to set boundaries and protect yourself from those negative forces we all have in our lives – whether that's setting healthier limits on your work or social life, or ridding yourself of toxic relationships.
Finding your own happiness
It might sound corny, but your relationship with yourself really is the longest and most important relationship you'll ever have. If we treated our friends and family the way we sometimes treat ourselves, how many do you think would stick around? We invest so much time, energy, love and compassion into nurturing and maintaining all the other significant relationships in our lives, and yet so often feel guilty or self-conscious about investing the same care in ourselves.
Far from being selfish, self-love has a profound impact on every area of your life – from the friends and partners you choose, to the way you present yourself at work and in social situations. It's an on-going journey of physical, psychological and spiritual growth, which guides you to live your best life possible.
Author: Sarah Graham