We’ve all heard it said that you can’t love anyone else until you love yourself. And although we know there’s truth to this old adage, most of us persist in looking for love outside of ourselves, often in all the wrong places.
In one of my emotional eating groups this week, we discussed the concept of worthiness. I asked the group members if they felt worthy of self-love. All said they did not and each gave a detailed list of the reasons they felt they were not worthy. The list included things like:
- I don’t have a college degree
- I procrastinate
- I haven’t paid off my debt
- I tend to be moody
- I yell and scream at my kids
- I need to lose weight
- I eat too much junk food
- I rarely exercise; I’m lazy
- I don’t floss my teeth
- I have few friends
- I’m stuck in a dead-end job
- I’m shy and introverted in a world that values extraversion
- I haven’t managed my money well
- I’m not beautiful and sexy
- I’m too old.
It was clear to me that in each case, their sense of worthiness was tied to externals–it had much more to do with what they were or were not doing, where they were at in their life or how they looked rather than who they were. I could hear the harsh and perfectionistic parental and societal expectations fueling the lack of self-love. For each group member, worthiness and self-love was on hold. Even though one member said she might be able to get herself to floss regularly and begin exercising, the weight might not come off fast and her debt wouldn’t be paid off for a long time. For another, she said that she might be able to sign up for classes to finish her college degree, but in her mind, she would never be beautiful, young and sexy.
No doubt, it’s difficult to love and value ourselves when we’ve grown up in a culture that values externals. When we see young, beautiful, successful people on television, the internet and in the news daily, it’s easy to feel inadequate and flawed beyond repair. After all, what’s there to love about excess weight, cellulite, acne, unruly hair, wrinkles and the like?
It takes courage and even boldness to step out of the cultural hypnotism and to begin to see that your self-worth has nothing to do with externals. You’ve been duped! Love and worthiness are not something you have to earn. They are your birthright. You deserve love and worthiness just because you exist. You deserve love and worthiness even though you’ve made mistakes, lost time, have imperfections and are taking poor care of yourself.
So, how do you get there from here? How can you feel worthy of self-love when you’re “not feeling it?” Self-love begins with self-acceptance, and that’s the place to start. Here’s a few steps you can try to build your self-love muscle:
- Make a list of the reasons you don’t feel worthy of self-love. Be honest with yourself. Write down everything you can think of. Sometimes just making the list gives you the opportunity to see how hard you are on yourself.
- Which items on your list could you realistically change? Make a separate list of these items. Which items cannot be changed or altered? Make another list for these items.
- Of the items you could realistically change, write down one small change you could make, for each, to move yourself in the desired direction. For example, in terms of continuing your education, you might commit to getting a catalog from the local university and signing up for one class. In terms of exercise, you could commit to park the car in the back of the market parking lot. Watch the perfectionistic thoughts about baby steps not making a big enough dent or about the pace being too slow. Your perfectionistic thoughts got you into this place of un-worthiness in the first place.
- For the items that cannot be changed or altered, what would it take to accept this aspect of yourself or your life? Self-acceptance involves compassion and forgiveness. Can you be compassionate with yourself regarding your shortcomings and mistakes? Can you forgive yourself for mistakes and perceived failures? What would it take to stop shaming, blaming and criticizing yourself? Self-rejection only creates hopelessness and depression and fuels emotional eating. You deserve compassion and forgiveness.
- Practice self-affirming thoughts daily. Try on thoughts like “I feel good about myself when I make small changes in the right direction.” “I can reach my goals, one step at a time.” “I can tolerate the slow pace of change.” “I can trust myself to follow through until I meet my goals.” ” I am worthy of loving self-care.”
- Practice gratitude for all you do have. Focus on what is “right” about you and your life–no doubt there is a lot to be grateful for. Gratitude is an “in the moment” practice that can open your heart and expand your perspective. As you read this sentence, your miraculous eyes are processing light, your brain is processing the information and your heart is beating and circulating blood throughout your body. Pretty phenomenal, if you ask me!
You already have everything you need inside to practice loving yourself. The question is: do you feel worthy of self-love?
Posted by Julie M Simon, MA, MBA, MFT, psychotherapist and life coach, certified personal trainer, founder and director of The 12 Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program and author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual: A Practical Mind-Body-Spirit Guide for putting an End to Overeating and Dieting. If you have a question or topic you’d like to see addressed in this blog, go to http://overeatingrecovery.com.
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