Let me let you in on something: despite what my Instagram feed might make you believe, self love does not come naturally to me. It's something I’ve had to actively work on.
Many of us find it "easier" to turn intense feelings like anger, sadness, or fear inward and onto ourselves rather than to develop the healthy tools needed to express them in a productive way. In our culture, feelings of inadequacy and self-hate are simply accepted as part of the norm. Right up there with anxiety, self doubt, and insecurity. These are cut from the same cloth.
Self-hate defies logical comprehension (plus it's complicated by systems that are designed to create unhappiness, like the patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and systemic racism, to name a few). I'm not so interested in asking "why" we hate ourselves. Rather, I want to talk about my own journey to self love and some tools that have helped me along the way.
I’ve often been my own worst critic. I survived 10 years of bulimia and the violence that accompanies that. Struggled (and sometimes still struggle with) depression, anxiety, injuries, chronic pain, trauma, and the stress of self-employment. Along the way, an internal voice of self loathing and self blame took root. Thankfully, through a lot of hard work and tender awareness, I've been able to (mostly) break this cycle of internal anger. I believe that if I can break this painful cycle, anyone can! You are worthy of all the self love in the world, and I believe you are capable of it, too!
Here are 10 things I do to ease out of the cycle of self-loathing and into serenity:
1. Get into your body! What the heck does this mean? For one thing, self hatred is mostly mental, and traps our brain in a loop. Break this loop by getting out of your head and into your body. Ways to do so: aromatherapy, focusing on the breath, meditation and pranayama, exercise (a fave because of the added benefit of endorphins!), and therapeutic bodywork (again, releases feel-good hormones like oxytocin) like massage, reflexology, reiki, craniosacral therapy, or acupuncture.
2. Mantra. If you've been trapped in this negative mental loop, you are probably familiar with the chorus of vitriol your brain echoes. Reverse this with healing mantras! You learned to hate yourself, and a great way to unlearn is with mantra: words repeated over and over to affect change. I call this "faking it 'til you make it" (nothing wrong with that)! Mantras that I like when my self hate comes up include: "you're ok", "I'm ok", "Inhale peace, exhale stress/anxiety/grief/hate", placing a hand on my heart and saying "it's ok, I'm right here", or "I am free of this story". I like to keep my mantras short, hyper-comforting, and easy to remember. As you can see, I go for a nurturing, maternal tone. I like to coordinate with my breath for a double whammy of comfort and effectiveness.
3. Ask your self-loathing voice what it needs: when this loop comes up for me, it's often a symptom of something more primal that needs addressing. For example, this loop emerges when I'm over-worked and over-tired. I now know to pause, take a deep breath, and try to create a strategy for change...do I need to carve out some downtime to rest? Book a massage? Take a weekend off? Phone a friend? Our bodies are just striving for balance, trying to get our attention and get ease. Use this loop as information, try not to get personally caught up in it, and strategize ways to break free.
4. Seek help, don't go it alone! There can be a tremendous amount of shame in this dark shadow, and so many of us are hard on ourselves. Get the therapeutic support you need to heal, it's so worth it. Look at it like this: What advice would you give to your very best friend if she came to you and confessed to struggling with self-hatred?
5. Take up meditation and/or journaling. Meditation has given me tools of awareness. Being aware of my triggers and of when I am stuck in the loop has helped me break it. Meditation is safe, easy, and even 2-5 mins a day can make a big difference. I use the Insight Timer app, which is free and has many guided meditations.
6. Look at your diet/lifestyle and make changes where needed. Avoid stimulants and depressants like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. These deplete an already depleted system, and can contribute to mental suffering. Personally, breaking up with booze nearly a year ago has created an environment where self love has been thriving easier than ever!
7. If possible, stop the triggering activity!First, if you're causing self harm, get help. If you're trapped in a mental loop, get outside, stand up from your desk and stretch, walk around the block, drink a glass of water, take a cold shower, put on loud music...you get the idea! Again, it's all about disrupting a toxic cycle, and any way that you can do that, even temporarily, is A-OK!
8. Connect to the things that bring you pleasure, and seek them out! This could be flowers, soft fabrics, touches/hugs/cuddles/orgasms, comfort foods, music, sleep, movies, baths, colors, nature... Take your own pleasure seriously! This is important.
9. Practice self forgiveness. Forgiveness frees us from resentment and regret. It was only after I was able to authentically forgive myself for my bulimia that I was able to truly close the door and feel complete in my healing for that painful period of my life. Forgiveness sets you free!
10. Get selfless! Self hate is selfish by nature. It is our own ego attacking us. Selfless acts such as volunteering, or helping a friend go through their own tough time inspire empathy within and get us out of our own egos.
I've come a long way towards self love, but it sometimes still feels like a daily practice. Maybe even something I'll be working on my whole life. "The journey is the destination" as they say, and the tools above have helped me enjoy that journey so much more. I hope you find them useful, too. There is so much healing to be found in learning how to love ourselves!