“Love yourself first.” These are words I always heard, but never fully understood. Yeah, yeah, I love myself. But it wasn’t until adulthood that I realized that I didn’t. This article is my attempt to explain my interpretation of these words, and why they should matter to you.
Develop your “self”
Discover what you are passionate about, then get really good at it. We are all born with gifts and talents that make us unique and allow us to shine. The teenage years are a perfect time for exploring different interests and discovering what it is that you love to do most! What really gets you excited? What do you feel drawn to?
I have found that the things we love today may not be the things we love a few years from now. The important thing is to figure out what you love to do now, then do everything you can to develop your skills in this area. And when your interests change, then just shift your focus and continue practicing and developing your skills. The passion that you have for a particular activity or subject is your gift to the world. It is your unique contribution, and one that should be fun for you! When you are doing what you love, more and more opportunities will come your way!
Calm your “self”
Give yourself permission and space to feel your feelings (even the ugly ones, like anger, sadness, grief and worry) then learn to calm yourself. Sometimes we are afraid to feel our deepest emotions because we worry that the feelings will be unbearable, or that we will always feel that way. However, the better you get at allowing yourself to feel your feelings (or in other words, allowing yourself to be human), the better you will become at moving more quickly and easily into a happier place.
It can be tempting to rely another person to help you chase away your negative feelings, or worse yet, to help distract you from feeling your feelings. In the short term, it may seem like a less painful way to go, but the problem is that when you stuff your feelings deep inside without acknowledging or feeling them, two things will always happen:
- These un-felt feelings will remain in your body and will accumulate over time, which can lead to bigger problems like depression and anxiety.
- You limit your capacity to feel positive emotions. It is not possible to lock away your ability to feel negative emotions without locking away part of your ability to feel the happiest emotions.
Don’t be afraid of your darker feelings – this is part of the human experience. When you allow yourself time and space to grieve, or to feel sad or angry, you also learn the powerful skill of self-soothing. Discovering the ways that work best for you to calm yourself and return to a positive place is a skill that will help you to become an independent, emotionally healthy person.
Be proud of your “self”
I am a huge proponent of developing your intrinsic motivation, or doing something because it is naturally satisfying to you. Rather than looking to external sources of motivation, validation and praise, learn to give those things to yourself. When you look to others (parents, friends, teachers, etc.) to tell you that you are doing a good job, or that what you are doing is important, you become reliant on others. It is also much more motivating to take action that is driven by something inside of you. When you learn to praise yourself and validate your own efforts, you are loving yourself in a way that no one else can.
So why is it so important to love yourself first? Well, it is really the only way to go if you are going to be able to unconditionally love another person. When you are able to fill yourself up in these three ways, you don’t need someone else to do that for you. Therefore, you are a complete, self-reliant person who doesn’t NEED someone else in order to be happy… and when you find someone you love, you will have so much more to give.
About the Author: Jennifer L. BASHANT, Ph.D., LMSW, MA, Monthly Mentor and Parent Mentor, owner of Building Better Futures, LLC, is a Parent Empowerment Coach with the mission to strengthen families by improving challenging behavior, reducing stress and providing optimism and hope that things can and will get better. She is extremely passionate about her work because she has raised a child with challenging behavior, and she knows, first hand, what it feels like to feel isolated, blamed and worried about the future. As a licensed social worker with experience in a variety of clinical settings, Jennifer shares her knowledge and expertise with parents in a way that is compassionate, authentic and relevant. Read More…