By Adam D. Blum, MFT, Gay Therapy Center Founder and Director
What if you really loved yourself? The concept of loving yourself has lost its power to inspire us because it was overused in cheesy popular media. We are in an ironic time and loving yourself sounds sappy, and very 1980s.
Start talking about self-love and people will immediately make masterbation jokes.
It’s embarrassing to talk about self-approval. It sounds narcisstic.
Loving yourself is not self-indulgent. It doesn’t mean you stop loving and caring about others. It just means adding yourself to your inner circle of loved ones.
We are so hard on ourselves. That becomes immediately obvious to any therapist. I believe we are experiencing an epidemic of self-hate. It can lead to mistreating our bodies, procrastinating on things that could benefit us, attracting people who belittle us, and plenty of anxiety and depression.
Perfectionism is one way of being mean to the self. You don’t expect your friends to be perfect, and yet some of us demand perfection from ourselves.
Do you ever expect any of the following? Perfect muscles, perfect clothes, perfect social life, perfect house, perfect vacation, perfect hair, perfect wedding? Do you need to be the perfect daughter, employee, lover, or boyfriend?
What if it was okay to be less than perfect? Or average?
Perhaps our competitive consumer society feeds this striving for perfection so we’ll buy more products to feel better.
The prevailing social message that “you are not good enough” impacts everyone, but lgbt people are particularly susceptible to accepting these untrue messages. From the moment we figured out our sexuality or gender we learned: “not good”.
Being perfect sounds like an excellent strategy to combat that message.
Until it sucks the joy out of most days.
Are you performing for the invisible chorus that you pretend is watching and judging you? Without being aware of it, many of us carry around this imaginary group of people whom we believe are evaluating us. These fantasy “friends” often are vestiges of the feedback we received a very long time ago from our parents, siblings, or high school classmates.
In our minds, the chorus may be rolling their eyes on any number of our actions. We may feel the sting of the make-believe chorus when we judge ourselves for being “uncool”, “too feminine”, "too masculine", or “boring.”
With all those judge-y people in there, it can get crowded.
Healing from Self-Hatred
So what if you really did take self-love seriously? What would that actually look like? Expanding self-acceptance is a life long process. It’s something we can always keep learning about.
Daily self-approval practice only makes us stronger. Which of the following are you willing to try?
- Notice when you are having critical or unkind thoughts about yourself. Ask yourself: would I say this to a close friend? A beloved relative? A child? Dog?
- Practice saying loving things to yourself for just ten seconds per day. What if you said to yourself “I love spending time with you and hanging out”. Perhaps you have said that to a friend, but I bet you have never said that to yourself. Assume that this will feel ridiculous at first.
- Consider believing people when they say nice things about you. Catch yourself when you find yourself pretending that they are just “being nice.”
- Keep an appreciation journal. List a few things each day that you appreciate (like summer fruit, sexy dancing in musicals, or art deco), and then make sure you add a few things about yourself (your ability to laugh, your calves, your commitment to flossing). Notice how your perspective changes when you play the gratitude game.
- Read Louise Hays’ You Can Heal Your Life. Take in what feels helpful in this new-agey book and leave the rest.
- Pay attention when you feel guilt. While we need a little guilt to let us know when we’ve breached our moral values, most of us carry way too much. Use the experience of guilt to ask yourself questions such as, “Am I allowed to have boundaries? Am I allowed to take up space in relationships?”
All of this sounds so basic and simple. And yet nothing could be more important than loving yourself when it comes to improving the quality of your life.
For more information about how we help LGBT individuals and couples please visit our website at www.thegaytherapycenter.com. We offer services in our San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles offices or by Skype or phone worldwide.