How to Love Yourself When Your Brain is Against You

It's exhausting feeling like you are always having to root for an Anti-Hero, and that person is you.  It would be fantastic if we could just jump out of bed, get dressed and start the day without any self-doubt, feeling confident enough to take all challenges on as opportunities. This month Amy Jackson talks about how as flawed individuals, we can cultivate some self-love and start understanding that we might just be the heroes in our own stories, as perfectly imperfect as we are. 

How do you learn to love yourself? As someone who has regularly screamed into the mirror (just me?), I can tell you it’s not easy. Years of bullying through school has left my brain programmed for self-loathing rather than self-love, and it’s exhausting. There’s a whole array of signs that you’re living with self-hatred, from all-or-nothing thinking to taking criticism personally. So how can you combat it?

 For me, I started counselling again. After years of on-off time-limited treatment for anxiety on the NHS, I realised there were issues beneath it all I needed to address. So, as I approached my 30th birthday, I decided that my gift to myself would be to invest in my mental health in the form of private counselling, and work towards some form of self-acceptance.

It was during these sessions that I learned about the ‘inner critic,’ that toxic friend that lingers in the background and zones in on our weaknesses when we’re most vulnerable. It tells you you’re a failure, downplays your achievements, convinces you that your friends secretly hate you, tells you that you’re ugly and riddles you with paranoia. If you’re a Mean Girls fan, you could say it’s the Regina George of your mind.

 My own inner critic meant that I failed to see my achievements, refused to accept compliments, overthought every single social interaction, and hated how I looked in my wedding photos. Working on all those things has been exhausting, and I’d be lying if I said I’ve officially silenced that inner critic and have finally learned to love myself. But I’m getting there. Very slowly.

 So, what have I learned over the last few months?

 Embrace the good AND the bad

 It’s easy to focus on our bad qualities rather than our good ones, but it’s important to realise that those who love us don’t expect us to be perfect. No-one is! In addition to your good qualities, your flaws are what make you who you are. What’s that saying? “If you were everyone’s cup of tea, you’d be a mug” – it’s a cliché, but it’s true.

 Practice self-care

Acts of self-care can be incredibly helpful when it comes to learning to love yourself. Take some time out of your day to embrace solitude, take a break from social media, or even treat yourself to a little something.

 Consider another perspective

 Often, you can be your own worst enemy. In the past I’ve told myself things like “you’re a failure,” “you’re so ugly,” or “you’re a complete disappointment.” One of the best pieces of advice I was given was to ask myself “would I say that to my best friend?” Of course I wouldn’t. So why sat it to myself? There is so much focus out there on treating people with kindness, but so many of us forget to apply that to ourselves.

 Practice gratitude

 We know that journaling is an excellent form of mindfulness, and it can also train our brains to be more positive. Grab a notebook and start getting into the habit of writing down what you’re grateful for. Advice differs in terms of how many things you write down – it varies from three to five to one – in my opinion, if you’re only just starting to learn to love yourself, three to five things is a bit of a stretch, especially if you’re a pessimist like me! So, keep it simple and write down just one thing. Anything that has made your day just that bit better – a cuddle from your pet, a really good cup of tea, you name it.

 Learning to love yourself is not an easy task. Personally, I’m not sure I’ll ever get to that point of full self-acceptance – but can we all honestly say that we do? Even the most confident of us will have those days of self-doubt. The best thing to do? Be kind to yourself. Just by doing one or two of the above will set you well on your way. You’ll get there.


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