“I want to get over this relationship,” “I want to feel more confident,” “I want to make a change in my career.” Folks start up therapy for a number of different reasons, including feeling depressed or anxious, and often one of the things that they need help addressing is their sense of self, their self-image, or their inner voice. In our work with our clients, we want to help them be kinder to themselves, or even (gasp) to love themselves.
It can take years to change our relationships with ourselves, since the relationships we develop with our caretakers during childhood teach us, for better or for worse, our first lessons about attachment and how worthy we are of receiving love. However positive or negative those childhood lessons may have been, and however they affect the way we conduct our relationships, when we become adults, we effectively become our own caretakers. Being responsible for our own care is huge. It gives us the opportunity to give ourselves what we may not have received from others: unconditional love. However, it can be hard to know where to start.
First, be intentional about how you talk to yourself! Our thought patterns are often habitual, and our inner dialogue is often a subconscious soup, containing themes such as messages about ourselves which we received in childhood, our anxieties about the future, and our regrets about the past. However, it’s important to understand that the voice you hear in your head is yours, and you have some say in what it says to you! By making the subconscious conscious and examining your habitual thought patterns, you then have the opportunity to become more intentional and choose whether to build yourself up or tear yourself down. Being kind and compassionate with yourself is often easier said than done, but with practice, it can become a habit.
We also can be intentional in how we choose to spend our time around. Loving ourselves more and becoming more self-confident is easier when we surround ourselves with people who are kind to us and encourage us to be the best versions of ourselves. If you notice that you feel worse about yourself after spending time with certain friends and family, maybe it’s time to change or limit your interactions with them. This is especially important if you feel that you can’t have an honest conversation with them about what you’d like your dynamic to be. Alternately, if those relationships are worthwhile and you think folks would be open to receiving feedback, you can also tell them how they can better support you (like letting them know that their little jokes that they sometimes say at your expense are hurtful, or that hearing them speak negatively about their own bodies makes you more critical of your own).
Lastly, while beginning or digging more deeply into the journey of becoming your own caretaker and treating yourself as if you are worthy of unconditional love and support, it can be helpful to identify other environmental factors that may be affecting your mental state in a negative way. One example is social media use. Research has shown that there is a strong inverse relationship between increased social media use and decreased self-esteem. Over half of the participants in this study, over half of the participants said social media affects them in a negative way. I know that I often mindlessly scroll through my social media pages, only to find that an hour or more has gone by and I only feel more inadequate. If that sounds like your experience, it’s probably time to make some changes. Ask yourself why you’re engaging with social media in the first place, and how you could do it differently. For some people, that means setting a time limit; for others, it means only “following” people that inspire you.
With the goals of loving yourself more and growing your self-confidence in mind, what’s one thing you want to try doing differently?