Learning to Love Yourself: Step One

By Dr. Christa Smith, Denver Psychologist

As a Denver psychologist I see many people who don’t like themselves, let alone love themselves. The idea of loving yourself seems preposterous, impossible, or self-indulgent to many people. But as I wrote in my January Psychology Today blog, I think we misunderstand what loving ourselves would look like and that’s part of why we never really try to do it. It’s really no different than offering patience, understanding, and kindness to other people. If we can do that, even from time to time, then there is no reason we cannot offer the same things to ourselves. We already know how.

But where do we start? What’s the first step along this path? When you look at your reactions to the events in your life, you may notice that they fall into one of three categories, you approve, you disapprove, or you feel neutral about them. Sometimes this happens in obvious ways, but it also happens on a very subtle level. You may notice that you feel angry and then you may disapprove of yourself, thinking that if you were a better person you would not feel angry. There is what the meditation teacher, Pema Chodron, calls a “subtle aggression” toward your own experience, your thoughts, your feelings, or a discomfort in your body. You say to yourself, “I don’t like this.”

The first step you can take in loving yourself is to start to open up to what you are really experiencing. You can reframe your approach to something more curious. “What is this actually like?” “Does it change as I watch it?” One question I like to ask is, “Can I make space for this (thought, feeling, or body sensation) just as it is?”

When we reframe like this we stop judging ourselves for how we naturally are, and by extension, who we naturally are. Not only do we become more accepting of ourselves, but we also create more peace because we fight less with what is actually happening. As Pema Chodron puts it, “Through our own good spirit, we can be willing to relate directly with what’s happening, with precision and gentleness. That’s what creates fundamental cheerfulness, fundamental relaxation.” If you take this approach, loving yourself does not have to wait for the future when you will supposedly be somebody better, it can happen in any moment in which you can be with who you really are.

If you want to talk to a psychologist in Denver, I would love to be able to work with you. You can click here to go to the homepage of my site where all of my contact information is readily available.