No jokes about self-love please
June 24, 2007 3:12 PM   Subscribe

Loving myself and loving others: Your tips and tricks please.

This is a question about self esteem, relating to others, and its relationship to living a satisfying life. I have grave doubts about loving myself, and with few exceptions, I do not love others. If I could increase my capacity for both kinds of love, then I think many things would go better. Your suggestions and stories about doing this, please. Thank You! But please, no religious advice, thanks
posted by DarkForest to Human Relations (24 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
YMMV: I had absolutely no problem with ego and love for myself, but had an impossible time trusting other people and having faith in others enough to love them. I was in a terrible relationship at the time that didn't need to last any longer than it already had, I wasn't interested in my work or my life, and I wasn't dealing with problems.

And then I got a dog. My dog taught me everything I so far have needed to know about unconditional love, faith, trust, patience and forgiveness. She's continued to love me even though I could list a litany of sins I've committed against her person -- there have been nights that she's missed dinner, there was one time when I smacked her on the head because I was frustrated with her, and there have been times I've been vague about what I wanted from her and confused the hell out of her. I've left her outside overnight once when I was too drunk to care for her (see: problems...) and have not taken her for walks as regularly as I should (even though she has a big backyard to romp in.) I'm a horrible pet owner. I don't spoil her at all, and I demand obedience at the level of a fully mature dog when she's barely a year old.

She's continued to love me anyway. And in return, I've come to love her VERY deeply even when she's being a complete brat.

Fast forward a year, and I'm in a great relationship, I'm doing better at work and am finally dealing with all of the "issues" that have plagued me for years. The only thing I can point to is that my dog finally made me able to trust in myself and my capacity to love and forgive others. I understand that not everyone's a dog person... but maybe what you need is a little trust in yourself?
posted by SpecialK at 3:26 PM on June 24, 2007 [9 favorites]

Patience and forgiveness made a huge difference for me. When I got better at forgiveness, I got better at loving myself and others. This was hard because at the time I thought I was pretty damn perfect. The idea that I would need to forgive myself for something was more an intellectual conversation about probablility than a humble belief. I started from a humanist psychology approach with the concept of unconditional positive regard. This is the belief that--no matter how poorly someone is behaving--they are acting in the best, most effective way they can manage in the moment and as such deserve empathy, compassion and love. It doesn't mean you condone or put up with bad behavior, but your responses to it come from love and kindness instead of fear and retaliation. Starting with yourself, in my opinion, makes it easier to extend this kindness to others. In fact it may be impossible to extend to others if you don't also believe it about yourself.

This may cross the line into religion (Buddhism), but I also meditate to try to lose my self-importance and to surrender to whatever-it-is that set me, us, all of this in motion. One phrase is "May I be full of loving-kindness for myself and others." An awkward sentiment when I first started, it is now something I can say to myself easily and (usually) authentically.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:48 PM on June 24, 2007 [8 favorites]

i would second getting a pet, if you can. something about taking care of another critter really awakens some primal attachment urges. dogs are great for their unconditional affection, but i would suggest a cat if you have difficulty with discipline. a dog you need to commit to training.

also, try doing something that you're good at every day. a sense of accomplishment can do a lot for your self-esteem. bonus points if you can do it in an environment where you can get positive feedback (like a class).
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:57 PM on June 24, 2007

Babysteps, take babysteps. First, any day that you sense will be difficult, or know at the end that it was, do a kindness to yourself. We mostly know what we want but don't give ourselves... the long bath, the call to a friend, the book longed for but not bought, the five minutes of quiet, the new music. One small treat.

The next day, do your best to go out of your way to treat someone with kindness. An elderly man at the grocery store wrestling with the impossibly tangled shopping carts. Help him free a cart (yes, this was today). We have dozens of chances a day to make someone else's better. And it's worth it, not least of all because they will pass the kindness along.

I know it takes time to form a habit, but this one's worth it.

Pets are a terrific idea, until you're like me and losing them makes you hate the world all over again. That's why I can say babysteps with such confidence. And the poster who said he tried to live his life so that his beasts would approve--he also had it right, and I'm trying.
posted by vers at 4:51 PM on June 24, 2007

As for loving others: think of ways to serve them. Little things go a long way and just by a small act of service makes me love others.
posted by Sassyfras at 4:52 PM on June 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Full disclosure: I posted a version of this answer once before, in response to this question. I've edited it a little for yours.

Whenever I used to hear people say things like, "you have to love yourself," I thought the only way it could be put into practice was as some kind of ephemeral attitude shift. I gradually developed a very practical way to love myself more, and it's had a very powerful impact on me.

It begins as basic meditation often does. Get yourself somewhere comfortable and quiet, and close your eyes. Focus on what you're physically feeling and sensing. (I find this a necessary first step, I think because I can't fully accept love from someone who I think doesn't really see me, even if that someone is myself.) When your mind wanders, keep bringing your attention back to feeling and sensing, for at least as long as it takes to be pretty aware of what you're feeling. For me, that's generally a few minutes, but if you're practiced in meditation and can sustain it longer, great.

Next, gather up as much loving feeling inside as you can. I do this by concentrating on my best, even if positively biased, feelings about a person I love. I imagine him or an idealized versions of him, and generate loving feelings for him, and let those swell as much as I can.

Now, instead of pointing that feeling out at this other person, point it in, towards yourself. Sustain it for as long as you can. When it drops off, you can gather it up again as above, and repeat. I also find I can sustain it more with verbal messages to myself in my head. I use the format, "I love you when you're (x), I love you when you're (-x)," e.g., "I love you when you're adult, I love you when you're a child," or "I love you when you're strong, I love you when you're weak." That's sounding really corny to me as I type it, but when I'm doing it, I keep directing love to myself as I say that in my head, and the feeling shifts in quality with the different phrases, which works for me.

That's it. Repeat daily or every few days. When I first did this for a few weeks, I felt like a different person. I'd be on the subway, and I'd feel all this unaccustomed compassion for the strangers that I'd usually feel neutral or negative about. I felt serene where usually I was a constant worrier. I think I actually did learn to love myself more. Even so, I've found it takes more willpower than I have to keep this up, which has been true when I've tried meditation, too. I don't know why, since there's nothing unpleasant about it, and it has such huge benefits. I hope that if you try it, it works for you.
posted by daisyace at 5:02 PM on June 24, 2007 [17 favorites]

Best answer: Why not love yourself?

Love is not a matter of deserving. If it were, few would be loved.

Loving yourself does not mean setting yourself above others. It isn't an egotistical thing. It simply means being kind, forgiving, and encouraging toward yourself.

Practice loving yourself. Just be kind to yourself, be understanding of your own faults and nourish your strengths, forgive your own mistakes quickly and move on.

As you become more successful at this, loving others will take care of itself. Because loving others is just the same thing: Being kind, understanding, forgiving, and encouraging.
posted by bricoleur at 5:06 PM on June 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Well, what is essential about you? And who are those who have helped you become the person that you are? Anyone who has ever graduated from a college, anyone who has ever been able to sustain a good work, has had at least one person and often many who have believed in him or her. We just don't get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others."

"If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person."

- Fred Rogers

"If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people."

"When we come into contact with the other person, our thoughts and actions should express our mind of compassion, even if that person says and does things that are not easy to accept. We practice in this way until we see clearly that our love is not contingent upon the other person being lovable."

- Nhat Hahn

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind... Perchance he for whom this bell tolls, may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me... may have caused it to toll for me...and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

- John Donne
posted by phrontist at 5:31 PM on June 24, 2007 [6 favorites]

My previous answer was deleted; perhaps it was too oblique, so I'll attempt some more specificity.

The point of the example which was deleted was that ... for someone seeking "stories" and "tips and tricks" to improve one's self-esteem, to learn to love themselves and others ... realize that all of our lives are interconnected in ways we don't fully understand.

In this film, a man reaches the end of his rope, contemplating suicide. He doesn't love himself. He despairs that things would be better if he hadn't even been born. And then someone shows up to tell him that he is loved and needed by others, and he should cherish his life and the connections to it, even if he doesn't fully realize the implication of those connections at the time.

So, be generous to others with yourself. You don't know, and will never fully know, the impact you're having on others.

And now, without further ado...

George wanders like a lost soul among the tombstones, Clarence trotting at his heels. Again George stops to stare with frightened eyes at a tombstone. Upon it is engraved a name -- Harry Bailey.

Feverishly George scrapes away the snow covering the rest of the inscription, and we read:


Your brother, Harry Bailey, broke through the ice and was drowned at the age of nine.

That's a lie! Harry Bailey went to war! He got the Congressional Medal of Honor! He saved the lives of every man on that transport.

Every man on that transport died. Harry wasn't there to save them because you weren't there to save Harry. You see, George, you really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:16 PM on June 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Stop and smell the roses. Quit worrying about anything that doesn't bring you joy. After a time of practicing this you will love yourself and others. Don't let anyone make you mad; you are just ignoring those people and having fun and experiencing good things all the time. Yeah, it sounds silly, but you know, it works. Smile, that works too. I know you don't want a religiouw answer, but that works too, but mostly because you join a group who support you. Any group in which you feel comfortable is a good thing.
posted by caddis at 6:50 PM on June 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Since somebody favourited one of my old answers the other day out of the blue, I've had confirmation bias on my mind. Here's part of that answer:

Confirmation bias is a concept in cognitive psychology that says you tend to notice or search for evidence that proves your hypothesis more than you notice or search for evidence that contradicts it.

For example, if you suspect that a friend has just slighted you in some way, when you search your memory you are probably more likely to sieze upon examples of behaviour that could be interpreted similarly, as opposed to examples of friendly, supportive behaviour.

Applied to your situation, you might find yourself mentally beating up on yourself and/or others, coming up with example after example of how you or they behaved like assholes, are despicable & unloveable, and so on.

When this happens, try to remember that you might be unconsciously selecting examples that support this hatred for self & others. Then focus on finding the exact opposite kinds of examples, such as when your friends, family & loved ones express their happiness at seeing you, or when you spontaneously help a stranger or go out of your way to assist a work colleague or somebody who you know needs support. That can help with the self-respect, at least.

As far as loving others is concerned, simply relaxing your self-focus can help, but since I was writing about cognitive bias, I'll offer the same kind of trick as above: stop obsessing over the times that people have let you down, or otherwise behaved poorly, and think about when they have been kind, gentle & friendly beings.

In most cases, the hurtful things stand out more, but overall, the weight is usually much heavier on the side of people being just like you. At the bottom of it all, we all want to avoid suffering (sorry, had to quote the Dalai Lama there!), and want to be accepted, respected & loved. That's the same for others as for you, and it guides most peoples' behaviour.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:41 PM on June 24, 2007 [4 favorites]

"Love is a verb."

It's as simple and as difficult as that.
The feelings follow the actions.
posted by mjao at 8:03 PM on June 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

(yes, because if you're not a do-ing, you're a be-ing)
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:22 PM on June 24, 2007

Same answer every time. Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns. Do the exercises in the book over and over again. Don't stop even when you feel better three weeks in. Do the exercises every day for 6 months. You will understand why this is the number one prescribed book by mental health professionals.

Also anything by Albert Ellis.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:08 PM on June 24, 2007

I think part of learning to love is to break down the mental distinction between yourself and other people. When you think about "I" versus "you" or "they", you tend to compare, contrast, criticise. If instead you think in terms of "we", you lose the need to expect perfection in yourself or others. We all have gifts and we all have flaws. Fortunately our gifts help to balance out the flaws of others, and vice versa. You don't have to be a perfect person, and you don't have to expect others to be perfect either - the only way we even remotely approach perfection is by the uniting of our collective strengths and weaknesses. Love yourself for the strengths you bring to humanity, and love others for the strengths they bring in balancing out your flaws.
posted by sherlockt at 9:58 PM on June 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Read Love 101. One of the most helpful books I've ever read on thue subject of loving oneself.
posted by Solomon at 2:16 AM on June 25, 2007

I've probably mentioned it here before, but I suggest you try nose breathing. What I mean by this is nothing more than breathing naturally, but making sure you keep your mouth completely closed. I find this really reduces anxiety and produces a sense of well being which naturally leads to more loving feelings towards others. Try it while you're giving your partner a backrub or stroking a pet, I think you'll find yourself paying more attention to what you're doing and experiencing a deeper connection.
posted by teleskiving at 8:44 AM on June 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

One of the simplest and truest things ever said to me, by my great-grandma - "people who are hardest to love are the people who need it the most". I think of that, and of her, a lot - and it helps.
posted by ersatzkat at 8:45 AM on June 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

For a long time I had an index card on the bathroom mirror that read "I'm okay". Some kind of message to myself like this was suggested by a therapist. I liked this as an affirmation because it is positive without over-reaching; I didn't automatically doubt it each time I saw it. I believe they're supposed to be more effective when stated in the present tense and without negatives. (IOW, "i am not a loser" might not work the same way; your brain registers "loser" more than the "not".)

I've seen other people do something similar with a text screensaver so each time it kicks in it displays something like an affirmation. A picture of yourself happy or smiling is another good one -- mine is a childhood pic but a current one might be better. A site that deals with "advertising" affirmations to yourself is Take Back Your Brain.

I'm not sure I can say "I love myself" without hesitation, but it has finally sunk in that "I'm okay" and that has made a big difference in my life. Admirable goal!
posted by olecranon at 8:53 AM on June 25, 2007

Best answer: Good question.
Read some Lester Levenson. His experience was quite interesting and he describes it well in several books; no need to get involved in the for-profit process he created to benefit from hearing about what he discovered. My favorite.

This comes from a good, short summary of his story:

"After a while he started to look for the times when he had been truly happy. Many experiences came to mind. When Lester examined these he found one thing common to all of them. In every experience of true happiness he Lester had been the lover rather than the beloved.

"Happiness is when I am loving!" he realized. "And since loving is something over which I have choice, then I may choose to be miserable, or happy." He then thought of all the people over the years who had treated him without feeling. He started with the doctor who had discharged him from the hospital. Did that doctor deserve his love, wondered Lester?

"That's not the point", replied the still small voice. "The question is can you love him, rather than does he deserve to be loved?"
posted by dpcoffin at 9:14 AM on June 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

The best thing I've ever read on love is C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves. Life changing. I think its important to start with the end in mind - knowing what love really, really is, before you set off to try and practice it on yourself and others.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:46 AM on June 25, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you for all your excellent answers. I've only marked a few favorites, but really, most of them could have been.

Future visitors to this page should continue to leave comments as long as the thread remains open. I check back on occasion to see if there's anything new.

Some responses:

Quit worrying about anything that doesn't bring you joy.

I really really wish I knew how to reconcile this advice with the real world. It's great advice of a sort, and I do read things like this often, but it seems not-of-this-world to me. Many things that are necessary to life as it is lived in America do not only not bring joy, but are positively onerous (mainly money, people, and time issues). I know that I should not be so overly literal about advice that's intended to mainly create an attitude shift, but I that's the kind of thought that comes up. Perhaps this should be the basis of my next askme question.

Don't let anyone make you mad

This is something I really want to do, and it ought to be doable. Yet, people often do wear down my patience/tolerance after a while.

I think part of learning to love is to break down the mental distinction between yourself and other people. When you think about "I" versus "you" or "they", you tend to compare, contrast, criticise. If instead you think in terms of "we", you lose the need to expect perfection in yourself or others.

This one is hard for me. People can seem so critical, oppositional, demanding and unappreciative. What I give never seems to be enough. I think a big part of the problem is my tendency toward meekness which just allows people to trample over me. Being assertive and establishing proper boundaries is a persistent problem.
posted by DarkForest at 10:51 AM on June 27, 2007

don't read too much into this example- i don't know you and am not making any judgements or classifications about you. < / disclaimer>

when sociopaths are in therapy, they sometimes say they don't love anyone. their therapists sometimes tell them to "act like they do", and this has often helped rehabilitate them.

maybe you could try to find people you like (but don't love), and then "act" like you love them? do nice little thoughtful things for them, or ask them thoughtful Qs and really listen to the answers. even just think kindly about them and look at life from their vantage point**. try to know and understand them, find out what they need from other people, and see if you can give them that to try smooth their days when you can.

doing this will deepen your relationships with those people, and maybe after a while, at least with some of them, the "acting" will end and you'll realize you really do love them.

if that works, try it on people you actively dislike- act like you love them, and see if it helps you to at least like them. -- and even if that isn't the end result, you'll still have treated them kindly and this means you'll probably experience smoother waters with them in the future.

** the "see it from their vantage point" thing can be way more literal than you might think. when i remember to do it, i find it an incredibly vivid reminder to really pay attention to other people's intentions, rather than my own reactions to their actions, which makes me calmer and more tolerant if they annoy me.

like in a meeting, look at where your annoying coworker is sitting and imagine you are sitting in that exact chair, right now. is she physically comfortable? whose faces can she see? what kind of expressions are on those faces? what else does she see? is something distracting her? what made her say/do what she just did? what might she need that you can give her today- a compliment? a smile? a little laugh at her lame joke? a sounding board? help meeting a deadline?
-- visualizing her physical point of view makes these things seem a lot clearer sometimes-- and then you might see what she needs. that's the time to act like you love her and go do that thing for her.

hope it helps, it works for me sometimes...
good luck!
posted by twistofrhyme at 5:03 PM on June 28, 2007

Emotional Intelligence has a chapter about this, and it can help you understand more explicitly what is going on in your brain when you engage in the "I'm a loser" kind of thoughts.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 5:22 PM on September 18, 2007

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