What If I Can’t? Loving Myself Edition
We have all heard the rhetoric: love yourself. If you can’t love yourself, you can’t love anyone else! Self care and self love is the path to happiness. You’re OK just the way you are. All bodies are bikini bodies (maybe you haven’t heard that one yet).
Some days, I do a decent job. I don’t say deeply hateful things to my body in the mirror. I keep the angry self talk to a minimum. I am sometimes able to say yes to myself. I’m able to validate my emotional experience and treat myself like I would a friend. I can even give myself a little smile when I see myself like, hey girl, we are doing this thing and we’re not doing the worst job. Some days, though, it all feels too hard.
My makeup isn’t right. My hair won’t curl but only on half the head. My body is definitely not what society accepts as beautiful and no matter how hard I try to believe that society is wrong I don’t always believe it. My notes are behind and my laundry is more like Mount Laundry. My teenager has many things to say about how much I suck. It never feels like I’m doing enough. Maybe I myself am not enough. If I was better, prettier, stronger, smarter, more something, everything would work out. How do I love myself when I feel like this?
The simple answer is: I don’t. I can’t make myself feel a thing I don’t feel. However, that said, I do think it’s so important that we move toward a feeling of self love or at least self acceptance. I write about equanimity a lot here and on Instagram because I both believe in it as a wellness practice and I struggle with it a lot. If I can’t love myself, I can perhaps come to a place of neutrality or acceptance. A sense, maybe, of things being what they are and not struggling against them.
What I like about that is I don’t have to move all the way to loving my fat body or my overworked life. I can just work on accepting it, seeing it as it is without judgment.
I use a couple of practices for this work. One is Kristin Neff’s self-compassion work. I don’t have to like anything about myself to offer myself compassion. I just acknowledge that things are hard and I’m in pain. I can just be kind about that and validate whatever feelings arise. Her self-compassion break meditation is perfect for this.
The other practice I really like is the radical acceptance exercises in DBT. Specifically, I turn to the Half Smile and Willing Hands exercise. I allow my face to adopt a soft half smile, not because I feel smiley but because I know that this action will cue my body to relax and stop resisting. I also turn my hands out and open in a receptive position, for the same reason. These body positions help me relax and turn my mind to acceptance of the current situation without holding myself tight and closed. It seems simple and even silly, but it works.
Mindfully relax your face. Try plastering the fakest grin on your face, like when someone says something really shitty but you have to be nice. Now, relax that face entirely and gently lift the corners of your mouth instead, without forcing it or involving too many facial muscles. Now drop your shoulders and turn your arms so that your hands face outward. Spread your fingers slightly, no fists or tightness. Breathe in this position. Do this in bed or in front of a mirror. Do it in the line at the grocery store. Practice. See if you can turn your mind toward acceptance instead of struggle. Not love, just accept.
It’s ok if you can’t always get to love. Just try to practice being what you are.