For many people, the concept of self-love might conjure images of tree-hugging hippies or cheesy self-help books. But as many psychology studies, research papers and personal experiences attest, self-love and compassion are key for mental health and well-being, keeping depression and anxiety at bay.
For many of us, self-love might sound like a luxury rather than a necessity – or a new-age fad for those with too much time on their hands. Ironically, however, self-love might actually be needed most by those of us who work too hard and who are constantly striving to surpass ourselves and grasp the shape-shifting phantasm of perfection.
Most of the time, when we’re being too hard on ourselves, we do it because we’re driven by a desire to excel and do everything right, all the time. This entails a lot of self-criticism, and that persecutory inner voice that constantly tells us how we could’ve done things better is a hallmark of perfectionism.
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Studies have shown that perfectionists are at a higher risk of several illnesses, both physical and mental, and that self-love and self-compassion might free us from its grip. Therefore, perfectionism and self-compassion are inextricably linked.
We have been raised to believe that perfectionism is a great quality to have. After all, being obsessed with perfect details leads to perfect work, and this personality trait gives us the opportunity to brag during job interviews.
In reality, however, perfectionism is bad for you. Not just “not ideal” or “harmful when excessive,” but actively bad. Like cigarettes or obesity. A shorter lifespan, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, eating disorders, depression and suicidal tendencies are only some of the adverse health effects that have been linked with perfectionism.
Recovering from heart disease or cancer is also harder for perfectionists, with this trait making survivors – as well as the general population – more prone to anxiety and depression.
So what can we do to move away from perfectionism? First of all, acknowledge that it’s bad for you; beating yourself up over every little error gradually chips away at your sense of self-worth and makes you less happy. And you deserve better than this.
In other words, happiness is something that you’re entitled to, not something that you need to earn. Even the United Nations adopted a resolution recognizing that the “pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal.”
From missing a deadline to dropping a teaspoon on the floor, perfectionists will constantly give themselves a hard time over the most unexpected things. So criticizing yourself is not uncommon.
Thirdly, you can start cultivating some much-needed self-compassion. You might think that self-love is a case of “you either have it or you don’t,” but luckily, experts insist that it is something you can earn.
The Boston Harvard Medical School has developed a technique called the “Mindful Self-Love and Self-Compassion Training,” that has been clinically tested with heartening results.
The program comprises various meditations, such as “loving-kindness meditation” or “affectionate breathing,” and “informal practices for use in daily life,” such as the “soothing touch,” or the “self-compassionate letter writing,” which have all been shown to help study participants develop the habit of self-compassion.
According to the researchers, practicing these techniques for 40 minutes every day for 8 weeks raised the participants’ levels of self-love and self-compassion by 43 percent.
Psychologists suggest 7 vital steps as a prescription for self-love. They are as follows:
People who have more self-love tend to know what they think, feel, and want. They are mindful of who they are and act on this knowledge, rather than on what others want for them.
Act on what you need rather than what you want. You love yourself when you can turn away from something that feels good and exciting to what you need to stay strong, centered, and moving forward in your life, instead. By staying focused on what you need, you turn away from automatic behaviour patterns that get you into trouble, keep you stuck in the past, and lessen self-love.
Practice Good Self-care:
You will love yourself more, when you take better care of your basic needs. People high in self-love nourish themselves daily through healthy activities, like sound nutrition, exercise, proper sleep, intimacy and healthy social interactions.
You’ll love yourself more when you set limits or say no to work, love, or activities that deplete or harm you physically, emotionally and spiritually, or express poorly who you are.
Bring the right people into your life. Get rid of “friends” who take pleasure in your pain and loss rather than in your happiness and success. There isn’t enough time in your life to waste on people who want to take away the shine on your face that says, “I genuinely love myself and life.” You will love and respect yourself more.
We humans can be so hard on ourselves. The downside of taking responsibility for our actions is punishing ourselves too much for mistakes in learning and growing. You have to accept your humanness (the fact that you are not perfect), before you can truly love yourself.
Practice Being Less Hard on Yourself When You Make a Mistake:
Remember, there are no failures, if you have learned and grown from your mistakes. Then there are only lessons learned.
You will accept and love yourself more, whatever is happening in your life, when you live with purpose and design. Your purpose doesn’t have to be crystal clear to you. If your intention is to live a meaningful and healthy life, you will make decisions that support this intention, and feel good about yourself when you succeed in this purpose.
Self-love is not simply a state of feeling good. It is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-love is dynamic and it grows through actions that mature us.
When we act in ways that expand self-love in us, we begin to accept much better our weaknesses as well as our strengths, have less need to explain away our short-comings, have compassion for ourselves as human beings struggling to find personal meaning, are more centered in our life purpose and values, and expect living fulfillment through our own efforts.
Self-love is important for living well. It influences who you pick for a mate, the image you project at work, and how you cope with the problems in your life. It is so important to your welfare that I want you to know how to bring more of it into your life.