By Susan Menahem, LCSW
Clinical Executive Director
Did you just roll your eyes when you saw “Self-Love” in that title? I’m sure you did. The truth is, we’ve all been told that if we just learn to love ourselves everything will just get better. That’s great information, and not only is it true and a vital aspect in depression treatment, but has anyone ever mentioned to you just how to go about doing it?
Randomly deciding one day that you are going to love yourself is nothing short of ridiculous. This isn’t a Nike commercial, you can’t “Just Do It”. Besides, if it were that easy we’d all be engaging in the world’s largest self-lovefest and there would be no need for depression treatment anywhere.
Here’s the key to real self-love. It has 3 basic stages and the good news is, after you get good at the first stage, the other two stages happen all on their own. They are actually by-products of the first stage!!
The first stage is to understand self-acceptance. Notice I did not say self-approval, I said self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is realizing that you are who you are and you are where you are at this moment in your life and it is all very matter of fact. Conversations about why it is, what it is and why you became who you became go under the heading of self-approval and we are not dealing with that right now. You don’t have to approve of anything to love it, this is not about passing judgment. I know it all sounds very zen but just follow me a bit further.
In practicing self-acceptance (and yes I did say the word “practice”) it’s a matter of changing a pattern of thinking that has been habitually ingrained, (so yes, this is something we practice.) The practice begins by allowing the thought “I accept myself and who I am today and where I am today.” Any judgements about who you are not or where you are not are part of “self-approval” and again, that is a conversation for another day.
And, why should you accept yourself? Simple, you are here and you made it this far. Whatever strike there is against you, whoever’s love you couldn’t attain, whatever bad decisions you’ve made, however horrible you may feel, you made it this far and that takes courage and guts. You are here, you are alive you are breathing and nobody ever said this was going to be easy.
Make it a practice every morning and every evening to just say “I accept myself”. Even if there are a million things you want to change about yourself, that’s fine. When the conversation in your head begins about the negative self judgements, remind yourself that none of that has to do with self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is a choice and only we can make it.
Here is where the magic begins. Once you get good at self-acceptance, a beautiful thing happens all on its own: The second stage – Compassion.
When you look up the word “compassion”, you get words like; sympathy, empathy, care, concern, warmth, kindness, tolerance and yes, even love. Wow! That’s a lot! Imagine feeling all of those things for yourself. How differently would you treat yourself? How would you allow yourself to talk to yourself? What things would you stop tolerating in others? Compassion is an automatic heart opener whether you intend it or not and those feelings I listed are its direct result. It truly feels amazing.
Once compassion begins to flow, the inevitable happens …. That elusive third stage “Self-Love.” You just can’t help it, again it is a byproduct of the second stage. When self-love is achieved, it all changes. We become very good to ourselves. The way we see ourselves, how we treat ourselves, how we allow others to treat us, how we move through the world, what we feel we deserve all changes. There is absolutely no room for feelings of depression or worthlessness or hopelessness. But, it all begins with the practice of self-acceptance.
So, the next time you hear someone saying “you just gotta learn to love yourself,” rather than rolling your eyes, you’ll just smile to yourself and say “It’s as easy as one, two, three.”