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  • Writer's pictureKatie Lewis

Practicing Self-Love

Self-love is an incredibly nuanced concept. We can love our physical bodies (a subject I could write for hours about), but we can also love our emotional selves, the parts of us that can't be seen or heard. We can love ourselves for whom we've grown to be; we can be tender with our morphing identities; we can respect the brain that's helped us determine our values. Loving ourselves includes being kind to ourselves, being compassionate with ourselves, even when we are less-than-perfect.

For a long time, I identified as a perfectionist. (Who can relate?) I liked to things to be a certain way. As a gift for my sixteenth birthday, my aunt paid for the wallpaper I wanted to redecorate my bedroom. My mom and I hung the paper together, and I can remember agonizing over how big the seams were. (They couldn't have been more than a sixteenth of an inch thick. Maybe less.) It drove my mom crazy. I hated to color outside the lines as a kid. Any page I thought looked imperfect, I'd rip out of a coloring book. In one college course, I was known as "Highlighter Girl" because I'd use different colors for different purposes.

The more identified this way, the more others identified me this way, the more deeply I adopted the branding. I was a perfectionist. I always was one, and I'd always be one. Not so fast.


Good Enough is Good Enough

In recent years, I've noticed that the love I hold for myself is in direct proportion with my perfectionism. If I didn't perform perfectly, how could I love the result? How could I love myself? I've spent some time intentionally reframing my thinking around perfectionism: Good enough is good enough:

  • Getting into an unmade bed at night is good enough.

  • Sweeping, but not mopping, the floor is good enough.

  • Imperfect but legible handwriting is good enough.

  • Doing something at the gym is better than doing nothing. A quick workout is good enough.

  • Hanging clothes inside-out is good enough.

When I started to give myself a break on some of my old hang ups, I noticed I started to love myself more. That's because self-compassion is at the heart of being kind to oneself. In order to be compassionate to ourselves, we must acknowledge that we are doing our best and avoid punishing ourselves for our imperfections.

good enough is good enough

How to Practice Self-Love

Self-kindness can take many shapes. It can mean positive self-talk (inwardly or outwardly) or it can mean reflecting on, and expressing understanding about, a past mistake. It can mean setting an intention to be kind to yourself.

Especially for those who identify as perfectionists, being kind to oneself doesn't occur without effort. We're taught, and the idea is reinforced many times over, that the best way to improve is to criticize ourselves. In fact, self-criticism leads to more stress, more mistakes, frustration, and a stunted ability to make positive changes.

One thing I've done to practice being kind to myself is to reframe self-criticism into kinder packages:

  • Instead of "I'm not making progress at the gym," I would say, "I show up regularly at the gym which is a huge victory."

  • Instead of, "I don't feel effective at my job," I would say, "I am as effective as I can be at my job. I'm improving all the time."

  • Instead of, "I've gained weight, and I'm unhappy with that," I would say, "I've gained some weight, but it doesn't define me. I've also improved my relationship with food."

  • Instead of, "I'm afraid my boundaries are too harsh," I would say, "I'm learning how to set boundaries that are healthy for me and those around me."

  • Instead of, "I should feel lucky to be here," I would say, "I deserve to be here. I have no reason to feel guilty, and I don't owe anyone anything."

Next time you're experiencing some harsh self-judgement, pause and consider how you might be able to reframe your thinking. Is the judgement you're making actually true, or are you being more critical than you deserve? Think of a kinder alternative and say it out loud or write it down.

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