Monday, September 26, 2011

How Do I Learn to Love Myself?

Our culture uses the terms “self-esteem” and “self-worth” liberally.  Thousands of books are published on it every year and hundreds of opinions written on it every day.  Many of us are constantly and painfully aware of our real or imagined shortcomings and their interference with self-acceptance and self-love.   Consequently, many of us are on a constant quest of self-improvement.

Self-worth is (1) the belief in oneself and (2) self-respect.  It is the conviction that you are competent to cope with life’s challenges and are worthy of happiness. It includes the ability to trust yourself to solve problems rather than just worry about them, take reasonable risks, and nurture yourself.  It also means being able to forgive yourself and giving yourself permission to make mistakes. 

Context has a huge influence on how we define our self-worth.  If you are a student at a competitive university and surrounded by highly intelligent people, academic success may be the main contributor to your sense of self-worth.  The same goes for those of us who define their self-worth by professional success.  And in today’s world where success is often linked to (some subjective definition of) beauty, self-worth is often defined by physical appearance.  If we are going through major life transitions, such as personal or professional changes, we can feel even more vulnerable in areas of self-love and self-worth.

What makes self-love and self-worth so tricky is that we lose sight of the multitude of factors in life that can give us meaning and define our self-worth.  We tend to assume all or nothing attitudes and self-definitions, and if you’re a perfectionist, you are twice vulnerable.  Achievement and looks aside, we play many other roles in life.  We are friends, sons/daughters, brothers/sisters, caregivers, romantic partners, supporters, activists, givers and receivers, spenders of leisure time, writers, speakers, advice givers, team members, etc.  And we make important choices every day that affect these roles.  There are many ways in which we contribute to our environment every day – ways we forget all too easily.

 Here are some ideas to start improving the way you feel about yourself:
  • Take inventory of the many ways you contribute to the world around you.
  • Learn positive self-talk – look for more on this in a future installment of this blog
  • Know your rights – this has to do with assertiveness.
    • The right to take time to slow down and think.
    • The right to change your mind.
    • The right to ask for what you want/need.
    • The right to ask for information.
    • The right to make mistakes.
    • The right to say, “I don’t know.”
  • Practice self-care and balance.  Treat yourself to something meaningful.  Be gentle with your body and mind.  You deserve it.
  • Get in touch with your strengths.  Make a list of personal strengths, both internal and external.
  • Accept compliments. Challenge yourself to simply say “thank you” after you receive a compliment.

If you are struggling with self-worth and self-acceptance, talking to a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional can help. I am a Houston psychologist and I work with both couples and individuals.  Call me for a free consultation at 713-364-8328 or visit for more information on my services.