10 Baby Steps to Self Love

10 Baby Steps to Self Love

Self love is an important part of staying mentally healthy, particularly in today’s world. It’s such a vague concept though; the idea that you should simply love yourself and all your worries will float away on the wind.

Often, ‘self love’ can be used as a buzzword by well-meaning people attempting to offer some kind of solution to the problems in your life, like loving yourself is the solution to all of life’s problems.

After all, as those fake-deep people say…

‘You can’t love someone until you learn to love yourself’

-That girl from your class who went on to sell essential oils from an MLM #bossbabe (probably)

Obviously, that’s ridiculous. Learning to love yourself isn’t easy.

It’s a big ask, though, to suddenly turn towards loving yourself when you’ve spent a lifetime hating yourself.

It doesn’t matter how many times our partners, our loved ones, and our friends reassure us that we’re beautiful the way we are, because it’s hard to believe them when we’ve often spent the time since we developed our sense of self being told to feel ashamed of that.

It’s not too late though.

We all have to start somewhere.

If there’s one thing you should dedicate your energy to, even if you can’t manage self love just yet, it’s hating yourself just a little less.

You don’t have to jump straight in at the deep end; that’s why this post is called 10 Baby Steps to Self Love. No-one can ever expect you to go from hating yourself to thinking you’re actually pretty damn cool overnight. That’s not how it works.

Like any great accomplishment it takes time, practice, and dedication.

I’m not perfect. I’m not saying we have all the answers – far from it. Learning to accept yourself, let alone have love for your body, personality and quirks, is a lifelong process, particularly when you’re building your self confidence back up from the bottom.

Here’s what I’ve found has helped me along our journey to self love, sourced from friends, family, and amazing therapists.

1. Be mindful of your internal voice

a man shouts into a tin can

Our internal voice has a LOT of power over us. It guides how we go about our lives, and most of us think that internal voice is 100% us. After all, how could it not be?

Our internal voice can be easily influenced by our experiences. It tries to serve us by keeping us safe, but can compound our anxiety by persuading us not to open up after we were ridiculed once, or convinces us no-one actually cares about what we’re going through.

Our internal voice is not always kind.

We can all struggle with our internal voice trying to convince us of things that aren’t real, and here’s the truth – this voice is not you.

The first thing you have to be mindful of is that your internal voice does not define your personality. We all think impulsive things at times and this does not make us bad people. It’s what you do with that voice, and the power you give it, that counts.

Simply being mindful of what this internal voice says can go a huge way towards your self love journey. A key part of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is challenging these thoughts, but for now, try paying attention to what this voice says. Take stock of how it talks to you and the things it says.

And, if you can, find a way to discredit that voice.

I swear by a technique I picked up way before my diagnosis, which was assigning that voice a name and an image that you immediately want to discredit. For me, it was Piers Morgan that worked. So, the conversation started going something like this:

My head: You’re gross and disgusting. You’re fat and ugly. No-one likes you

The actual me: Shut up, Piers, you dusty wanker

At the very least, telling someone like Piers Morgan to shut up will give you a chuckle, but discrediting your impulsive negative thoughts can go a huge way towards cultivating a more positive image of yourself.

2. Be mindful of instinctual response

a man sits alone on a bench, his head clasped in his hands. he is stressed

We all have an instinctual way of responding to events in our life, which is often influenced by our past and how we were brought up to act.

For instance, think about this – how do you respond to compliments?

If a friend compliments your dress, do you downplay it (“oh, this old thing? It’s really ratty and I got dressed in ten minutes”), throw a compliment back (“says you, those jeans are BEAUTIFUL”) or simply thank them (“aw thanks, it’s my favourite dress!”)

Why do you respond this way?

I’m not here to suggest answers, because that’s something you have to answer for yourself.

You get my point, though – we respond to things that people say or do in our lives in certain ways without necessarily thinking about why we’re doing it. It’s not always a bad thing and I’m not saying to stop holding doors for people or thanking people who serve you at the supermarket, but there’s certain things we can say and do in response to things in our life that can feed into that monster in our brain that loves to tell us we’re not good enough.

For instance, if you always respond to friends complimenting your fashion style with comments like “it’s just an old tshirt I’ve had for years and I can’t be arsed to buy new clothes Susan but thanks I guess”, you’re subtly telling yourself, amongst other things, that those compliments people give you? They don’t really mean them.

Not only is this super harmful for genuine relationships where people do actually mean what they say, you’re also solidifying in your head that no-one could, in any way, find anything nice to say about you.

This might sound like a bit of a stretch, but brains are odd sometimes, and mine definitely works this way at times.

I’m not saying start responding to people along the lines of “Why thanks Karen, I am pretty damn hot and honestly you WISH you could be me” but, starting by being mindful of what you say and do is a good place to start.

3. Form a solid self care routine

a heart drawn into some moisturiser on skin

I know self care has become a buzzword in recent years, but it doesn’t negate how important it is to both your physical and mental health.

It’s a crucial part of how I cope with my mental health, as I need to take more time each day to look after myself.

For me, building a self care routine I can dip into every day and one I can fill a day with when my mental health is super low has been a key part of my recovery. It means when I’ve had a tough day, I can pick an activity from my mental list that I know helps to relax me or make me feel good about myself, or if I need to I can spend a whole day building myself back up and quietening those damn voices in my head.

I was quite fortunate that I had a therapist paid for through work, and as part of those sessions I discussed with him what I did for self care and he gave me some pretty solid recommendations. Here’s the ones I factored into my routine:

  • Only spend what you can afford. You can avoid unnecessary stress by keeping your self care routine affordable and within your budget. If you can’t afford to spend much, then plan your self care around things you can do for free or cheap, or using things you already have in the house.
  • Don’t force yourself to do anything. If, after 10 minutes, the activity you chose to do isn’t working for you, don’t continue doing it. Find something else. But at least give it a chance for 10 minutes. Make a note if something didn’t work for you today, and why that was, so you’ll know certain parts of your routine may not work all the time.
  • Don’t force yourself to be productive. If crafting works as a self care routine (like knitting does for me), then craft. If spending an hour in the bath with lots of skincare and haircare products works (like it does for me), go for it. Don’t stress about not having anything to show physically for the time you’ve spent, because the mental benefits are more than worth it.

So, as an example, my self care routine consists of:

  • Knitting (free, because I already have the stuff to do this)
  • Having a bath with a nice bath bomb, a face mask, a hair mask, and body scrubs (£7 for a bath bomb from Lush, then whatever face mask and hair mask I have in either from Birchbox or Lush, and whatever book I’m reading)
  • Playing video games (free, as I tend to go back to the same games every time)
  • Going for a walk to the store and back (free, plus the cost of snacks/beer if I fancy them)
  • Watching animated movies (free with Netflix, plus I own a bunch of them on DVD)
  • Watching Steven Universe (free on Youtube)
  • Painting tabletop miniatures (free, because I have all the stuff already)
  • Spa days (expensive, the cheapest one I’ve found so far is £37 for a day with afternoon tea and a 25 minute treatment, so I do this rarely)

I feel like having a mix of things that cost me nothing, things that cost a little, and expensive things I do rarely means I’ve always got things to do depending on my budget.

4. Make yourself a priority, not an option

a chess piece with a crown

Quite often we can put ourselves last, because doing otherwise can feel selfish. Giving our all to a friend in need or for a charitable cause is awesome, but for the sake of our mental health, this isn’t something that’s always healthy for us.

After all, what message are you sending not only to yourself, but other people, if you constantly put yourself last?

It’s not selfish to put yourself first when you need to.

Sometimes, we just don’t have the emotional energy to give away. We could already be struggling with our own issues, and helping someone else at the same time can be too emotionally draining. It’s hard, but learning to put yourself first in these situations is one of the best things you can learn to do for yourself.

This is something I learned through therapy, after talking to my therapist about how my empathetic nature (seriously, not meant to be a humblebrag) meant I was taking on a lot of my friends’ pain, and while I wanted to help it was getting to the point where it was spiralling into depression because I couldn’t do anything for them, and felt like a failure.

I’m extremely lucky to be surrounded by a lot of awesome people who are not only aware of my mental health issues but respect my need to take time for myself. I’ve learned over time that the right people in my life will respect when I say “I’m really sorry, but I need to take some time for myself right now, and we can talk about it once I’m feeling better”.

It’s a hard thing to do, don’t get me wrong. Society has taught us to give important people in our life everything and save nothing for ourselves. I still worry about saying this and one day someone throws a fit and tells me I’m a shitty person.

It does take time and practice, and you can start by saying these things to people you trust to respect your need for space if you don’t have the confidence yet to use it in other areas of your life.

5. Set boundaries and enforce them

a locked gate with a sign that says "road closed"

This relates to the point above, but seriously, as adults we can often forget we all have the power to enforce our boundaries.

We live in a culture that glorifies giving our all to everyone and going out of our way to help in any circumstance but, as we talked about earlier, sometimes this can do more harm than good.

Similarly, we can often let people tread on our boundaries without confronting them about it, because fear of confronting people and offending them often overcomes our need to protect ourselves.

For many of us, this fear can be all-encompassing to the point where you forget you have boundaries at all because once someone’s broken your boundaries, it’s easier for them to do it again, and again, and again.

The best kind of people in our lives won’t even test your boundaries – these are the kinds of people who won’t push you to talk if you don’t want to, but always often a friendly ear when you’re ready to talk.

Then you have people who don’t tread on your boundaries maliciously – they just don’t know where those boundaries are.

They might get disappointed that you don’t want to talk about something personal with them, but they get over it, and more often than not can understand that their disappointment is an issue with them, not you.

Lastly, you have people who push your boundaries, and often don’t take no for an answer. 

You can tell them you don’t want to talk about something, but they keep pushing. Some of them eventually take the hint, but some don’t. Some get outright offended that you don’t want to talk about things with them and blame you for it.

This is where I like to imagine my boundaries as the gates of a wall that surrounds a huge castle.

When I meet people, those gates are closed, for obvious reasons.

You may knock and seek permission to enter, but perhaps I just don’t want to let people in at that point.

The first group of people accept this and say they’ll wait around outside the gates if I want to talk to them and get things off my chest.

No pressure, no pounding on the doors – just patience. It’s for those people eventually I’ll fling those gates open wide and open up to them, full force. For them, the gates are always open. There may be things inside that prevent them from getting to the castle, like my boundaries regarding talking about my sex life or other secrets I keep to myself, but generally they’re welcome to mill around the courtyard because I trust them not to break anything.

The second group keep asking why I won’t let them in.

The gates stay closed for them, but perhaps will open up in time once I find out what their intentions are. There might be more obstacles behind the gates, fences and cobbled walls that I build to keep myself safe, but some of them make it through that first hurdle.

The last group, I don’t open the gates for at all.

They pound on the gates demanding to be let in, preaching that I owe it to them to let them in the castle and trying to kick down those gates. Perhaps in my fear of sparking a war, I’ll let them through to the first hurdle, only for them to defile my space or tell other people the secret of getting through. 

Something I’ve gotten a lot better at in recent years is pushing those people back through the gate – and sometimes moving the gate entirely, so they can’t find it.

It can certainly be difficult to build and reinforce those boundaries, particularly with people who don’t believe (or don’t like to believe) that you have any after they’ve walked over you for so long. 

It’s hard to tell someone close to you that you don’t want to let them in.

When I talk about moving the gate, what I mean is purposefully avoiding topics that people may use – or have used – to try and break down your walls.

It’s difficult not to talk about things, particularly if they’re a key part of who you are, but I’ve found the best way of starting this journey to reinforce my boundaries is to avoid giving them a way to that gate in the first place.

Over time, I’m hoping this will give my walls some respite to grow stronger than they ever have been to resist the siege.

6. Treat yourself like a friend

two friends fist bumping

A key part of CBT is challenging your thoughts, and it’s something that’s become pretty habitual to me now after doing this kind of therapy for a long time. One of the key things therapists will ask as part of this thought challenging process is this –

What would you say if you heard your friend talk negatively about themselves?

Obviously, if we a heard a friend saying to themselves that they were the worst and a huge disappointment we’d sit down with them and reassure them that they’re awesome, we love having them around, and just because they spilt a glass of water doesn’t make them awful.

Yet, we often give our minds a free pass to say the same things about us without recompence.

Similarly, we wouldn’t tell a friend that they were the worst and a huge disappointment just because they spilt a glass of water. We’d forgive it as an accident, clean up the mess, and move on with our lives.

I admit it’s not the easiest thing to do in your head, and when you get started with thought challenging it’s best to write things down on paper so you can dedicate the time to thinking about how you talk to yourself. It will eventually become habit to challenge your thoughts in your head, but it does take time and practice.

Everyone is human and we all make mistakes. While it’s good to take responsibility for your actions, the downside of this is punishing ourselves too much for mistakes in learning and growing. On the path to self love you have to accept your imperfections, because no-one is perfect, and that’s what makes us human.

After all, you wouldn’t hate your friend because they didn’t have time to hoover the house today – why should you beat yourself up for the same thing?

7. Live with intention

Quote: "let your dream be bigger than your fears"

Since I was a kid, I always felt like a failure because I never really had any goals in my life.

I wanted to be a writer, sure, and at 19 I got my first professional writing gig, but after that I didn’t really know where I wanted to go. Life felt a bit hollow because I was living from one day to the next on autopilot. I’d wake up, go to work, come home, watch Netflix or play video games, and sleep, just to do the same thing day after day after day.

I didn’t have any goals in my life to motivate change.

It’s only really when I started doing pole dance classes that I realised what I was missing in life was the goal to just be me. No bullshit, no woo – just the intention to live life as authentically me as I could. To be happy, fit, and do what I love with no guilt or shame. This became almost a guiding philosophy for me, and something I try and achieve every single day.

Each day I try to do the following:

  • Work on one thing that I enjoy: Whether that is pole dance, this blog, or doing flexibility training, I try to spend an hour each day (at least) on working towards things that make me happy.
  • Do one thing that makes me happy: Depending what time I have, this could be watching an episode of a good TV show, watching an awesome movie, playing video games, having a bath, or simply using a face mask while I’m in the shower.

Honestly, this is pretty achievable, and puts no pressure on me to be doing certain things. 

If I don’t feel like working on one thing I can do something else without guilt or shame, and I don’t push myself to achieve things – if I’m burned out creatively (which definitely happens) I can just do some blog planning or admin work, or if I can’t face a screen I can do a yoga session. 

Each help me cultivate self love through working towards my goals of being happy, fit and authentic, just in different ways.

8. Do no harm; take no shit

multiple hands forming a heart shape

Okay, this is perhaps my favourite phrase, and something I’m probably going to have tattooed on me one day because it’s something I try to live by. 
It’s quite a simple philosophy really.

Be kind, loving and caring, but don’t let people take advantage of you.

In a world full of hate, death and nihilism, where it feels like every day we’re walking blind towards the apocalypse, it takes a lot of courage to remain optimistic and loving towards people, and in particular assuming the best in everyone you meet.

Now I’m not saying to give asshats like Donald Trump or Piers Morgan the benefit of the doubt.

What I am saying is that it’s easy to assume the worst in people, particularly when the media loves to demonise certain ethnic groups and gender identities.

After all, the media is all around us, and it’s easy to let it dictate to us what to think. Not having to form your own opinions is the easy way out.

A key part of this philosophy is, as it says, do no harm. This doesn’t just mean avoiding punching people just because you’re a bit miffed with them (although maybe don’t do that, it’s a dick move), but to me it means assuming the best until proven otherwise.

It also means helping the disadvantaged, and using my own privilege as a straight, white, able-bodied cis woman to elevate the voices of people less privileged as me.

Secondly, take no shit. The idea that despite your nature to love, care and assume the best, once someone has shown you they’re willing to harm you or what you believe in, to not stand for it and never back down. 

You’re willing to open your heart but if someone takes advantage of that to their own end, you’ll rescind that in a heartbeat.

You won’t stand for the way they treat you or others and you’ll be on your guard around them until they show they’re willing to apologise and change. And even then, you stay wary.

I’m a very loving and nurturing person by nature, and willing to go to the ends of the earth to keep people safe. I’m willing to put my trust in people but if that trust is broken, it’s not exactly something that can be easily fixed.

This is a key part of my own journey towards self love as this phrase guides who I am. It sets my own boundaries regarding love, trust and what I do about those who betray that trust.

9. Add ‘no’ back to your vocabulary

a judgemental woman

This goes back to boundaries again, but it’s still a key point to make. I think we’ve lost the ability to say no, and we need to reclaim it.

As women, we’re socialised to be agreeable and kind. We’re told that stirring the pot is bad, and to avoid making trouble. This is so ingrained into our personalities that sometimes, we can struggle saying no to our friends and family, even when saying yes can mean we end up emotionally drained, spending money we don’t have, or committing time we want to spend on ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong – saying no is difficult.

It’s completely doable, though. The best people to ‘practice’ this with is, obviously, the people you trust not to be a dick about it.

Going back to the point about making yourself a priority, there are a couple of times where I’ve had to say to people “I appreciate the invite but I’ve had a rough week and need time at home to recharge”.

Phrasing it in this way has helped me feel less guilty about flat out saying no, but the right people won’t ever make you feel guilty about saying no anyway.

It’s actually a pretty good litmus test for any kind of relationship. Through saying no, or explaining you’re taking time for yourself, you can establish whether that person is someone you want to keep close in your life or keep at arm’s length if they get annoyed or later use you saying no to guilt trip you into doing something for them.

It’ll also help you establish those boundaries and emphasise that you need space to yourself, which the right people will respect and won’t judge you for.

It’ll also help your journey towards self love by treating yourself as a priority, and knowing the limits of the emotional energy you can spend on others. 

Once you know these limits and begin to enforce them, you can start alleviating the guilt that often comes with saying no to social commitments.

10. Eat the damn cake!

layered chocolate cake with a fruit glaze

A little bit of what you fancy does you good, so treat yourself once in a while.

Restrictive eating and dieting might work for some people, but it’s never worked for me. I’ve always got too obsessive over weight, and then when I started moving away from tracking my weight and towards measurements and macros, I got too obsessive then. If I slipped up even once I’d hate myself.

Once I gave myself permission to eat how I wanted, of course this started out with me going crazy buying treats for the house. We’d have stocks of chocolate and ice cream everywhere, and I’d have cakes at work every day. 

It’s through doing this I realised that actually, because I’d restricted access to them for so long, they’d become so coveted in my mind and they actually didn’t bring me as much satisfaction as just eating what I fancied when I was hungry.

I now perhaps only treat myself to a cake at work once a week at most, and that’s only when there’s something that I fancy. But I’m buying those treats because I want them, not because I’ve convinced myself through restrictions and diets that they’re “naughty” and are something I can only have if I “deserve” them.

So eat the damn cake, have a hot chocolate, wrap your asparagus in bacon and dip it in cheese. Live your best life.

I hope this helps pave the way to a more self-loving you. There’s tons of stuff I wanted to add in here that I just don’t have room for, which will most likely make it into a future post.

Have any tips and tricks that you’ve picked up on your self love journey? 

Share them with me on the Sass and Clacks Facebook and Instagram accounts, and you might see them in a future post!

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