4 Ways You Can Start Treating Yourself Better Today
Start by acting like you're someone who really matters.
Posted November 21, 2016
If you find it easier to be your worst critic than to like yourself, you're not alone. Many of us struggle with a general negative feeling about ourselves.
Maybe you think awful things about yourself—that you're stupid, disgusting, unlovable, or worthless. Perhaps you're constantly on your own case about not doing enough, or "messing up" everything you try. Or maybe it's hard to find words for your sense of inadequacy, and while you don't believe you're bad, you have a chronic sense of not being happy with yourself.
It's hard to feel at ease when you have a pervasive feeling that, in some fundamental way, you're not OK. And negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves often go along with treating ourselves badly. We might verbally abuse ourselves, deprive ourselves of sleep, eat poorly, or abuse substances that harm our bodies.
Self-neglect can be more subtle but similarly damaging. We might be very considerate toward everyone in our lives except for the person who inhabits our own skin. (See my earlier post.)
It’s hard to see yourself as someone of value and a person worth knowing and loving, if the one person you’re always with—yourself—treats you badly. Imagine being in a relationship with a friend, family member, or romantic partner who never asks how you’re doing. (Hopefully this is not your reality.) Imagine how it would feel if this person never attended to your needs or did anything nice for you, and when he or she did, it was only begrudgingly and with minimal effort.
It's easy to see how this kind of treatment would affect the way you feel about yourself: You'd start to think you're not worth caring about. In the same way, abusing and neglecting ourselves can reinforce the idea that we're not a worthwhile person. Thus we find ourselves in a Catch-22 situation: You need to treat yourself well in order to feel that you have value, but you need to recognize your value in order to start treating yourself well. No wonder it can be so hard to change our negative sentiments about ourselves.
How can we break out of this cycle? It's very difficult to force ourselves to feel a certain way about who we are. Changing unhelpful thoughts is useful to some extent, especially if those thoughts are overly harsh and simply not true.
I suggest we start the process with changing our behavior. We can choose to act as though we love ourselves, even if we don't really feel it. Start by acting like you're someone who matters: Yes, I mean pretend you like yourself. Pretend you care about your own happiness. Pretend your needs are more than an afterthought. We can, in fact, fake it, and the feelings often follow.
Try these four strategies to show yourself this kind of care:
- Take the time to plan your day in a thoughtful way. So much of our time is spent running from activity to activity with a constant, nagging sense that we're not doing what we need to, and that everything is taking too long. Sometimes this is unavoidable; other times we can arrange our days in a friendlier way that protects our basic sanity. Consider building in one enjoyable activity—it could be something brief.
- Prepare a nice lunch for yourself. Act as if you're making it for someone you care about. Think about what this person likes. Imagine how you want the person to feel when she or he sits down to eat the food. In other words, pretend you’re someone worth making a nice lunch for.
- Carefully consider your own needs and how you can meet them. Again, extend the same kindness to yourself that you probably extend to others. Research shows that knowing what our needs are is linked to greater emotional stability, more security in our relationships, and less fear about missing out. And, of course, recognizing our needs makes us more likely to fulfill them.
- Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. Relationships can have powerful effects on our well-being. Seek out the people who build you up, and minimize contact with those who bring you down.
Practicing greater self-kindness has countless benefits. One recent study of people with diabetes found that practicing compassion for oneself led to decreases in depression and better management of average blood sugars. And not being beaten down constantly by our thoughts is an obvious advantage of being kind to ourselves.
If self-love is a foreign concept, it can feel pretty uncomfortable at first. If that's the case for you, try easing into you. You might start by simply treating yourself like a friend. Keep in mind that you don’t have to try to feel a certain way. (Think about how you've made friends with others; it probably wasn't by forcing yourself to like them.) Just treat yourself the way you might treat someone you’re getting to know—someone you recognize as a whole person, as real as anyone else.
Some may be concerned about "overcorrection," with self-care turning into self-absorption. I think this outcome is unlikely, for a couple of reasons: First, making positive changes in this area is hard, especially if we've been chronically abusing and neglecting ourselves. It's more likely you’ll continue to struggle at times with liking yourself. Second, true self-care includes caring for other people and fostering meaningful relationships. Indeed, as I wrote in this earlier post, helping others is actually self-serving; one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves is to look out for the needs of others. In fact, self-care actually makes us more likely to care about others. When we feel loved and cared for, we have more to share. (We also become less willing to tolerate being mistreated by others when we’re treating ourselves well.)
A friend I had in college was fond of saying, “Love is a verb.” If you’re having a hard time feeling love for yourself, try showing yourself love. You can start today, even at this moment: What can you do right now to show yourself some kindness?
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Friis, A. M., Johnson, M. H., Cutfie.d, R. G., & Consedine, N. S. (2016). Kindness matters: A randomized controlled trial of a mindful self-compassion intervention improves depression, distress, and HbA1c among patients with diabetes. Diabetes Care, doi:10.2337/dc16-0416.