To be beautiful means to be yourself.
You don’t need to be accepted by others.
You need to accept yourself.– Thich Nhat Hanh
The quote above may seem like a rather simple concept, but it is profound in its truth, and very difficult to adhere to. It is, however, one of the key principles to loving yourself.
You may be struggling with self-love right now, but in this article, you’ll learn a technique to fostering this often elusive feeling. Adopt this single approach and you will see a genuine difference in the way you treat yourself.
Let me explain…
Every single day, we’re inundated with messages from all directions that try to manipulate us into hating some aspect of ourselves. These can come in the form of magazine or TV adverts encouraging us to diet and exercise in order to have a “beach body” we’ll love.
Or you may hear yoga gurus insisting that as long as we drink enough green smoothies and say daily affirmations, we’ll live in a constant state of bliss and finally love ourselves and everyone else the way the Universe has always meant us to.
Well, no. None of those messages mean a damned thing when it comes to real self-love, because they’re all geared towards change.
When it comes to learning to love yourself, the secret is that loving yourself sincerely means accepting yourself unconditionally. Not deciding that you’ll love X aspect of yourself despite your “flaws”. Because you don’t have any flaws. You are a person who is growing and evolving every minute of every day.
Parents of small children see these types of changes on a constant basis, but rather than being frustrated with these little people for not being the perfect, evolved beings that they’re capable of becoming, parents are patient and gentle, knowing that their kids are growing exponentially on a constant basis; they’re learning lessons, and trying to figure out the bizarre, confusing world around them.
Love and Accept Yourself As You Would Your Own Child
There’s really no great difference between us and children when it comes to personal development, except for the fact that we’re saddled with more responsibility and body hair. We constantly have to learn new skills and concepts, negotiate new territory, and contend with an onslaught of emotional issues from all directions.
We’re inundated with negative news from around the world, have to work our way through relationship issues, health concerns, and workplace drama… all the while berating ourselves for every perceived mistake.
Instead of seeing cock-ups as learning opportunities and forgiving ourselves for being fragile humans trying to navigate life as best we can, we’re usually overcome with self-loathing and guilt for not being “perfect”. We might make a mistake at work, fight with our partners due to miscommunication, hate ourselves for gaining a few pounds or having the audacity to develop laughter lines or forehead creases.
Are any of us as unrelentingly unforgiving towards those we love as we are towards ourselves?
Think of the negative self-talk you may indulge in on a daily basis; would you ever say such things to a child? What kind of a person would be so harsh and cruel towards a delicate being who’s really just trying to muddle through life as best they can?
This may be a difficult concept for those who don’t have kids, but even people who aren’t raising little humans have likely had some experience with unconditional, non-judgemental love. A new puppy that craps all over the floor isn’t doing so out of malice, but because he hasn’t yet learned the rules for relieving himself outdoors. He’ll have accidents on occasion, or possibly pee on the floor if he’s scared or startled, but chances are when that happens, he isn’t going to get yelled at or hit, but will be comforted and reassured.
Unconditional Acceptance, Without Comparison to Others
There is nobody in the world exactly like you, and that right there is an incredible treasure. Who you are, and what you have to offer, are utterly unique, and cannot be compared to anyone else. Ever. That’s quite a revolutionary thought in a world that is constantly comparing us to ideals others feel we “should” be striving to be like, but sorry, no. No one is any greater or lesser than anyone else, and we cannot ever compare ourselves to others. They’re not us, we’re not them.
We can occasionally be inspired by other people to take some kind of action in our own lives, but not in a way that would demean who we are or make us think that we would be happier or more successful if we were like them.
As an example, let’s say that you have always wanted to start a non-profit organization, and someone whom you admire has done something similar. By all means, look at the way that they’ve structured their approach, but don’t try to emulate them. You can appreciate their success and try to model your own business on theirs, as long as you don’t berate yourself for not following exactly in their footsteps.
Did a friend of yours lose a bunch of weight and they now seem to have a crazy amount of self-esteem? Okay then. Endeavoring to get to the gym on a regular basis to get stronger and healthier is great, but remember that anything you see on social media is extremely curated; people show the most impressive sides of themselves in public, and rarely air out all the negativity swirling within.
For every aspect we see that we interpret as positive, there are just as many hidden shadows tucked into corners. Very few people show off photos of their sagging skin after dramatic weight loss, or images of themselves in states of utter exhaustion after working 18-hour days for a month to get their business off the ground.
When it comes to our relationships with other people, we may berate ourselves for not being an ideal friend or partner, wishing we were more like others we know.
We may utterly despise ourselves for having emotional hindrances like anxiety or depression, which sometimes cause us to cancel dates or disappoint friends. Even if our loved ones are understanding towards us instead of getting all passive-aggressive and guilt-trippy, self-recrimination can kick in hardcore, which causes self-esteem to fall apart.
Many of us may have expectations of the type of person we should be, because that’s who our parents, friends, or siblings are, and they’re so much better than us, aren’t they? More deserving of love? Compassion? Understanding?
When we accept ourselves unconditionally, with gentleness and appreciation, we can have gratitude for every aspect of our lives. Hating ourselves because our personalities, behavior, or temporary meat-bags don’t adhere to other people’s standards of “perfection” seems like a startling waste of time and energy, doesn’t it?
Again we turn to the concept of loving ourselves unconditionally, as we would our children. Sometimes it helps if we envision ourselves as we were when we were kids, even if that means digging out old photos from our childhood and posting a few of them around the house. Every time you start to think negatively about yourself, take a look at who you were when you were six or seven years old, and be protective of that child; don’t let anyone say or do anything demeaning or cruel to that little one, because those words can do more damage than most are even aware of.
Life is difficult and scary and beautiful, and ultimately, we can only ever be who we are, and do the best we can.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.