Christa Smith Psy.D.

Shift

Got Love?

Why loving yourself is good for you and your New Year's resolution

Posted Dec 31, 2014

It’s time for your New Year’s resolution. If you’re not sure what you want for 2015, allow me to ask you a few questions. What would it be like if you could really love yourself? How would your life change? Life is challenging and love is a vital nutrient that we need to thrive and cope. It can be easy to forget that the love we crave from other people, we can also give to ourselves.

When I talk with my psychotherapy clients about self-love they usually protest. Some say they don’t deserve it. They wonder how they can possibly love themselves when they have failed and fallen short so many times. It sounds too daunting. Others worry that self-love will turn them into narcissists. I mention this because they hesitate for the same reasons we all do. Self-love seems sentimental, cloying, or insincere. But I think that’s because we don’t really understand what loving ourselves means.

There are different types of love, but what I’m talking about here is love the virtue, the ability to offer someone kindness, compassion, and concern. In my experience most people have no problem with love when it comes to other people. But when it comes to ourselves it seems wrong somehow. For many of us there’s not just an absence of love. There’s also a quality of self-aggression and neglect in the way we treat ourselves. Though we may recognize this, we are afraid that if we ease up we’ll turn into apathetic blobs. 

But the opposite of self-aggression and neglect is not laziness and self-absorption, it’s love. Can you recall the last time your heart went out to someone else? Maybe your child had a hard day at school or your friend was handed a scary diagnosis. Perhaps you tried to understand where they were coming from and naturally reached out to comfort and help them in whatever way you could. Loving yourself is the same thing. The only difference is that you feel those feelings and take those actions for yourself. It’s not about being self-centered or having low expectations. By definition, that’s not love.

Contrary to what many of us fear, research has shown that developing loving characteristics, like self-compassion, is linked to very positive effects, such as taking responsibility for our actions, better follow through with healthy behaviors and important goals, and better psychological health. 

In the mindfulness tradition kindness and compassion are considered so important that practices have been developed to cultivate these qualities specifically. It’s interesting that the instructions for these practices ask us to offer love and care to everyone, including ourselves.

It may be difficult at first to actually feel loving toward yourself, the way you do toward your friends and family, but don’t be discouraged. If you practice loving actions, the feeling will come eventually. Your practice can be as simple as committing to kinder self-talk or taking breaks when you need them. There are many mindfulness practices you can learn such as focusing for a few minutes each day on a loving-kindness phrase like, “May I be happy.” Authors like Kristin Neff, Sharon Salzberg, and Rick Hanson offer expert advice on how you can use mindfulness to develop compassion and kindness for yourself in 2015. 

Given the positive effects of self-compassion on working toward goals, more love is a perfect compliment to any resolution you may chose. 

© 2014 Christa Smith