There are so many reasons we learn to dislike ourselves. Even when we finally manage to feel self-loving, it never completely stops being an issue and we can still have bad moments or bad days.
There is no debating that violence and neglect in our communities is devastating to our ability to feel love for ourselves. And even in the best of families, we are told as we grow up in a settler colonial society that we don’t matter as much as others, that we’re in the way of progress and economic development. Unequal and inadequate funding for education, housing and clean water are some of the ways this message is made clear to us.
How many times in a day does something happen to make you feel unloveable? Is it any wonder you have self-love issues? Frankly, it’s more remarkable to feel any self-love at all amid the barrage of negative messaging we are exposed to on a daily basis. That’s not good for you, your community or the generations to come.
When you cannot love yourself you cannot love anyone else. Worse, self-hatred can lead to behaviours that are abusive and violent. It’s a vicious cycle. To end the violence in our communities each of us has to learn how to love ourselves. Here are a few actions you can take to start:
1. Recognize that love is a feeling AND a verb. If you’re not feeling it take action and the feeling will follow. What kind of action? Read on.
2. Develop self-compassion. Cut yourself a break. You can learn from every mistake you’ve ever made, large or small. Make meaning out of your errors by finding the gift or lesson that helped you develop your spiritual muscles. If you can’t find it yet, trust it’s there and you will see it some day. Believe the Great Spirit has your back and keep moving in the direction of love.
3. Learn to take a compliment. Say meegwich, niawen, walalin or thank you in whatever language you speak. Tell the person you appreciate that they noticed whatever it is they’re complimenting you on. You are under no obligation to deflect, return or refuse a compliment. Don’t be falsely humble either. Take the compliment and believe it. People probably feel good about complimenting you. Don’t steal their joy away. Remember what others notice about you. You’ll need it for the next suggestion.
4. Give yourself compliments. Take a 10-day challenge to offer yourself three compliments a day. Stay away from appearance and don’t repeat yourself. Compliment your actions, beliefs and character. Choose something you sincerely believe about yourself. Be as specific as possible. For instance, if you think you’re kind, that’s great but maybe recount a time you acted kindly and compliment yourself. “I showed kindness by listening to my co-worker vent when he got upset.” “It was good of me to drive my friend to her medical appointment.”
At the end of the 10 days, look back on those 30 compliments. Read that long list aloud and allow yourself to accept and internalize all those nice things you said about yourself. Keep giving yourself compliments. Never stop.
5. Be yourself better and accept who you are. Don’t pressure yourself to do things you don’t want to. You don’t have to go out with someone you don’t like, attend a party when you’d rather stay home or engage in behaviours that are uncomfortable in an effort to impress others. And you don’t owe anyone explanations either. “I’m just not feeling it,” will suffice. Feelings matter. You don’t always have to put words to them. Spend some time alone, on the land or in your bedroom. Get to know yourself better and be uniquely you. You are enough. You are … remember all those compliments?
6. Heal yourself. We all have traumas. Some of them were inherited. They are all healable. Science is learning that the best ways to heal trauma are those that have been practiced in our communities for millennia. From healing circles, to sweat lodge, to cedar bath ceremonies and beyond our ancestors knew how to engage with the spirit to heal the mind, heart and body. Trust in your cultural practices.
7. Give yourself permission to play – in your own unique ways. Don’t guilt yourself for sensual pleasures. Laugh more. Make others laugh. Find the fun and satisfaction in whatever you do. Create stronger, deeper, closer relationships. Share your joy with others.
8. Surround yourself with people who respect you. Anyone who makes you feel bad, whether intentionally or not, doesn’t get to bask in your beautiful light. If you don’t feel it, pretend you love yourself too much to put up with anyone who treats you badly. Demand respect. If you don’t get it, withdraw from the situation as soon as you can: end the relationship, quit the job, leave the house, etc. It may be difficult but you’ll feel better in the end and no job or relationship is worth your soul.
9. Treat others with respect. That includes ALL Our Relations. You will have nothing to regret at the end of the day and you will be proud of the way you treat others because they are mirrors for you. As you lift the spirits of others, yours will rise as well.
10. Live with integrity & response-ability. Responsibility is about the ability to respond appropriately to your situation. You always have choices. Make the best one under the circumstances, the one that recognizes you are worthy of being loved and that you are connected to all of life. Act in ways that are in agreement with your beliefs and values. If peace is important to you, be peaceful. If kindness is important, be kind. If generosity is important, give your attention, time and energy to those who need it.
11. Change bad habits – one by one. Bad habits leave you feeling bad about yourself. According to the research it takes only 21 days to erase a neural pathway in your brain caused by a bad habit. This doesn’t apply to addictions which alter body chemistry but to small, daily practices you’d like to change by creating good habits. Watch too much TV? Go for a walk instead. Like to gossip? Change the subject. Leave the conversation. Procrastinate? Give yourself just 5 minutes to start the job. Studies show that most folks who commit to 5 minutes usually end up finishing the job. For big projects, 10 or 20 minutes per day. Nothing like accomplishing something you’ve been putting off to make you feel great about yourself.
There are lots of online resources on how to eliminate bad habits and form new ones. Change one habit at a time, one step at a time. Try not to rely on willpower. Instead substitute your bad habit with something that you will enjoy. And always add a dash of self-compassion because you may have a few false starts.
12. Prioritize yourself. Do something you love every single day. Schedule everything else in your life around one or two things that you enjoy doing. Your family and friends may not, at first, like that you’re taking time for yourself but they’ll like how it affects you and improves your relationships. Your self-love will be contagious. It will show your children, family and friends the benefits of loving oneself. Remember: Creator loves to see you enjoying the life you were given.
13. Keep your space neat and clean. No need to be obsessive or make yourself exhausted by constant cleaning. You don’t have to be able to eat off your floors. Keep it reasonable but know you deserve a clean, fresh home and workspace. Let your home take care of you and provide you with comfort, safety and joy. Your home will reflect how you feel about yourself. So allow it to light you up and spoil you.
14. Get out onto the land. Most of us feel surrounded by love and affection when we’re outside. Everything just feels better. Know you are worthy. You didn’t have to earn your life or the abundance the Earth offers. You don’t have to prove or pay anything for sunshine, lakes or trees. The Great Spirit knows everything you’ve ever thought, said and done and still gifts you. You deserve to be gifted. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be here.
15. Be thankful, even when something bad happens. Focus your attention on the gifts of being alive. There’s always something to be grateful for. Being thankful emphasizes life’s sweetness and reminds you, you are worthy of it all. That’s why our ceremonies and daily protocols start with giving thanks to Our Relations and Creator.
16. Take action on creating a better world, whatever that might look like to you. Protect land and water. Learn and share your culture. Take care of the plants and the children. Help organize a gathering or event. Be brave and work to eliminate the violence and neglect in your community. No need to burn yourself out. Just give what you can of your time, skills, wisdom, labour or whatever else you can to your community for the sake of the generations to come. You have something to offer us or you wouldn’t be here. You’ll love yourself for contributing to making the world a kinder and better place.
Self-love is a decolonial act. White supremacy benefits when we don’t love ourselves enough to stand up, demand justice and create strong communities. When you love yourself, you refuse to allow anyone to treat you, your loved ones or Our Relations badly. There’s no asking, begging or suffering in silence. There’s no ranting, arguing or threats. You simply stop tolerating less than you deserve. You do what needs doing to ensure you and those you love live dignified and meaningful lives.
Breaking the cycles of hate and violence can start with finding the love and peace within you.