Sometimes we find self-love when we’re not even looking for it. That’s what happened to me. Twice.
If you have a moment, I would love to share these treasured memories with you. I promise, there is a lesson in there that applies to you and that might have meaning for you.
The first time I received one of the most wonderful and unusual gifts in life, I was a high school student sitting in a classroom, listening attentively to the weekly school announcement to hear who had won the award for Student of the Week.
The second time, I was at a concert and walking to the restroom when a woman in an elegant dress caught my attention.
In both cases, I had no idea how profound of an impact these experiences would have on my life. While I can’t give you your own real-life version of this (if I could, I would), I can give you the next best thing: a story.
How I accidentally found more self-love
Let's begin in the classroom.
As I was listening to the principal’s announcement describing the achievements of the winning student, I noticed myself feeling impressed by what that person was doing and how they were showing up. I even thought for a moment, “Gee, I would like to receive one of those awards one day. I wonder what I would have to do to get that.”
I pushed that thought aside as I remembered that the past Student of the Week selections included a football player who was single-handedly responsible for a hard-fought win for the school, as well as a girl who had probably saved a life. There was no way I could ever live up to those standards.
Fast forward to the time when I was at the concert. The woman who had caught my eye almost reminded me of an elf. For the briefest moment, I was quite mesmerized by her appearance.
In both cases, I was stunned by what happened next.
Applause suddenly erupted in my high school classroom. I didn’t understand what was going on. The teacher walked over to my desk and congratulated me. My brain tried to make sense of this. Eventually, it dawned on me that the amazing person described in the school announcement was apparently… me.
It might seem to you that I was being rather obtuse at that moment. But let me ask you this: Could this experience have been your experience?
If somebody described the most positive aspects of you and you didn’t know they were talking about you, would you recognize yourself? Or would you think they were talking about some mythical creature who is clearly living in another reality than yours?
More than a decade after that day in high school, the elf-like woman at the musical event headed straight my way, giving me the chance to study her. I concluded that I would like to look as elegant as she did at that moment.
For some reason, neither one of us would move to the side and out of the way. I began to wonder if we would run into each other… that is until I realized I was walking toward a mirrored wall concealed in the corner of a rather dark room.
Again, you might think I was either obtuse... or very, very drunk (no, I wasn't).
Let me ask you if this could also have been your experience.
If you saw yourself on the streets without knowing that it was you, would you think differently about yourself? Would your outside perception be different from your inner experience of yourself?
The reason these two situations were one of the greatest gifts of my life is that they showed me why people have a hard time to find self-love.
Why it can be so hard to feel self-love
In many ways, we judge ourselves more harshly than others judge us. For instance, one study discovered that people systematically underestimate how much someone they talk to likes them (researchers called this discrepancy the "liking gap"). Four studies found that people were judged less harshly by others than they thought for committing a social blunder or having a public intellectual failure.
As a result, there is typically the discrepancy between how you habitually see yourself and how you would see yourself if you were looking through somebody else’s eyes.
I wish everybody could see themselves the way they would see another person at least once. Fresh eyes on who you are and how you show up in this world might be the easiest way to experience a sense of awe about who you are and deepen your self-love.
3 ways to start finding more self-love:
1. Ask somebody who has high regard for you about their perception of you
Chances are that the people around you will perceive you much more positively than you see yourself, especially if you are self-critical. By listening to how others perceive you, you can start to open yourself up to a different point of view.
The key here is to specifically ask others about the positive qualities they see in you and to letting their feedback in. While we generally don’t like negative feedback, taking in positive feedback is harder than it seems. It’s easy to just hear it on a superficial level, instead of really letting it sink in and allowing it to transform you.
In addition to receiving this positive regard from people close to you, it can also be beneficial to receive it from other sources, such as an external support structure (for instance, a therapist or coach).
2. Start taking compliments seriously
Related to the last point is the practice of taking compliments seriously. Again, this is harder than it seems. If you’re like me and many people I know, you might have a tendency to wave compliments aside, as if they’re unimportant.
But here’s the thing: They’re not unimportant at all!
It’s funny how most humans (including myself) can spend a long time worrying about one negative comment they received from someone else… while entirely forgetting about compliments they received.
If we care about what other people think, shouldn’t we at least give equal airtime to compliments?
What I’ve found that it’s so powerful to deliberately take in compliments. One simple way to do that is to just pause, take in the words, and then smile and say “Thank you.” Not only does will this gradually increase your self-love, it’s also nicer for the other person who made the compliment. With this practice, receiving compliments becomes more natural and way less cringe-inducing over time.
When somebody gives you a nice compliment, assume that they mean it. Take it in. Don’t let it pass you by and don’t wave it aside. Assume that this compliment might be the truth about you, or at least closer to the truth than any negative self-talk.
3. Put yourself in the shoes of another and evaluate yourself
This requires some imagination but the results are well worth it. Sometimes, when I’m down on myself, I imagine how others might see me. And generally, when I’m being self-critical, I come to the conclusion that others likely have a more favorable opinion of me than I have of myself.
Unlike other people, we’re present for all of our worst moments. And then, when we compare ourselves to others, we often compare our “inside” (which includes self-doubt and other negative feelings) with other people’s “outside” (which is more curated and filtered). That’s not a fair comparison!
A fair comparison would be comparing your inside reality to someone else’s inside reality. Of course, that’s impossible to do so we can do the next best thing and compare someone else’s outside to our own outside.
These questions can help you see yourself from the outside:
- If you were somebody else, how would you see yourself?
- What would you find impressive about yourself?
- What would you find beautiful about yourself?
- What would inspire you about yourself and your own story?
The hidden key to more self-love
The hidden key to self-love might be simple: see yourself as if you were somebody else, and then allow yourself to recognize that that amazing person... you!
A version of this article was first published at Elephant Journal.
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