'Please be good to yourself' is something we would like to say to our loved ones when we witness them beating themselves up. Yet, we rarely take our own advice. Unlike compassion, self-kindness often feels unnatural. In today’s society of achievements, we succumb to rationing self-love as if it were something that needs to be painstakingly deserved. However, it is not.
Self-love is dynamic and expands as we grow psychologically. It is not something that you can attain through a makeover, inspirational read, career achievements, or a new relationship. It is not simply feeling good or motivated to take on the world. It is knowing and accepting yourself, being comfortable with who you are. Being good to yourself means being autonomous and centred in your life purpose and values.
This article will explore the science behind self-love and self-kindness, and give you eight research-based tips on how to be good to yourself.
Being good to yourself is a foundational tenet of many psychological interventions. The reason? It is an essential ingredient of well-being. Through self-love, both our minds and our bodies can function optimally.
For a long time, researchers and practitioners were aware of the effects of self-kindness on psychological and physical health. A recent study revealed the mechanism behind its benefits. Being good to oneself switches off our threat response, calms our heart rate, and, overall, enables us to respond flexibly to situations.
Be good to yourself: self-love is essential for well-being shutterstock/kues
The threat (or, the fight or flight) response to stressful situations is adaptive to a point. However, for a modern human, on most occasions, this reaction is overly intensive. After all, there isn’t a prehistoric carnivore chasing us. So, consistently practising self-love and managing to switch this extreme automatic reaction off boosts our immune system. By doing so, we give ourselves the best chance of healing and prospering.
For the majority of people, the habit of being unconstructively self-critical is deeply engrained in their psyche. Most of us expect to see results (educational, professional, or social achievements) before we can begin to love ourselves.
So, being good to yourself probably won’t become your default state of mind on its own. You need to commit to practising it. Here are eight techniques you can easily incorporate into your life. Try them and hopefully you will start to see a difference.
Even though it’s not a panacea, mindfulness remains at the top of the list of beneficial techniques in a variety of situations. It teaches us to observe our inner world without judgement. If you want to be good to yourself, fist yu need to accept whatever it may be that you’re feeling or thinking. Mindfulness gives us the necessary self-esteem and unconditional self-acceptance we need to feel comfortable with ourselves.
Not being perfect stings. We know. We all have an image of the ideal self in our heads. Looking at the discrepancy between who we are and who we want to be is unpleasant at the very least. Nonetheless, to be good to yourself doesn’t mean lying, flattering, or turning a blind eye to your shortcomings.
Self-love means not bashing yourself over your flaws. It means building a healthier response to your failures and imperfections. Accepting that you’re not impeccable will gradually lead you to a realistic image of your self-worth.
Once you’ve brought your weaknesses and emotions to the light of the day through being mindful and truthful, you can begin to shift your attitude. When you ignore or deny your limitations, you are giving the power away. Because you don’t want that, it’s time to come up with affirmations that will resonate with your true self.
“'Be good to yourself' is much more than a phrase. It is a foundational tenet of many psychological interventions.”
For example, you might be facing a difficult task. Trying to convince yourself that the idea of giving up does not tempt you probably won’t work. Instead, you could try saying: “Even though this feels hard, I will be gentle with myself and simply do my best”. If you’re struggling with creating your genuine self-love statements, try thinking about what you would need to hear from someone else. What kind of supportive sentence would you believe in?
Forgiveness liberates. It’s a pearl of ancient wisdom with strong support in modern-day research. An extensive review of studies on forgiveness found that if we find it in ourselves to replace the unforgiving emotions with empathy and compassion, our bodies and minds heal. Letting go of resentment means to be good to yourself.
And what about self-forgiveness? When you forgive yourself, you open the doors to growing as a person. Whether you’re feeling guilty for hurting another, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or for holding on to unhealthy habits, let go of self-hate. Forgiving yourself frees you from unconstructive self-condemnation.
To be good to yourself means more than self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. It means working towards fulfilling your purpose as well. Once you’ve come to peace with who you are and abandoned self-loathing, the need to realise your potentials will naturally come to the front.
Forgiveness is a big part of self-love and being good to yourself shutterstock/HBRH
This is when you need to be clear on what your core values are. You can try one of the life coaching tools freely available such as the “What I really value in life” or “Values and purpose” exercise to help you define what it is that moves you.
Self-love and good self-care are closely connected. You are more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices when you’re happy with yourself and your life. This association can also work the other way round. If you commit to taking good care of yourself, you will build the basis for loving yourself more. Be good to yourself, eat healthily, exercise, sleep better, surround yourself with well-minded people, and pursue interests.
But remember, it’s also very important not to be harsh on yourself when you fail to do those things. Being a perfectionist will only cause you to beat yourself up, instead of making you feel good.
In the age of social media and all-around self-promotion, our natural inclination to compare ourselves to others has become enormously amplified. We all know that people carefully edit what they display online (and in person, for that matter). Nonetheless, we are still affected by the contrast between our real lives and what we see out there.
“'Being good to yourself probably won't become your default state of mind on its own. You need to commit to practising it.”
We all do it sometimes – we bend over backwards. We do it for our career, friends, family, or simply because we were raised to do so. Although it is praiseworthy to be selfless, the truth is – you cannot live a healthy life without healthy limits. Well-being depends on feeling like you’re in control and being assertive (among other things, of course). Therefore, you cannot keep pulling out all your stops for every single person or project. You need to set boundaries and protect your integrity.
As you might have noticed, we’re not proposing narcissistic self-love based on a delusory image of your saint-like grandness — quite the opposite. The foundation of self-love is authenticity.
So, to love yourself, know yourself. Accept, do not judge - but always seek ways to grow and improve. Be kind and forgiving to yourself. Live a life that is in line with your values and work towards your ideal self. In that way, self-love becomes the spring from which your contribution to the world will flow. •
Stanislava Puač Jovanović has a master’s degree in psychology and works as a freelance writer and researcher in this area. Her primary focus is on questions relating to mental health, stress-management, self-development and well-being.
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