Life sometimes has a way of shaking you off of your original path, one incident at a time. Part of it may be life’s natural progression, like partnering up, becoming a parent, or pursuing a career. But when the to-do lists and expectations pile on, the things that used to light you up often go by the wayside. As we focus on love this February, remember to appreciate and nurture the most incredible, talented, and important person you know: you.
The art of falling back in love with yourself may seem like an insurmountable feat. That’s why Indy Maven connected with Indianapolis-based therapist and self-love advocate, Danielle Ireland, MSW, LCSW. She’s also the creator of the Unleashing You Program, author of the Treasured Journal, and host of the podcast, Don’t Cut Your Own Bangs–the remedy to comparison and feeling like everyone has it figured out but you. Danielle holds firmly in the belief that when we see the best in ourselves, we bring out the best in others.
REALIZING YOU’VE LOST SIGHT OF YOU
Each day begins the same and you just feel … off. The littlest hiccups ruin your whole day, you’ve shrugged off the things you used to enjoy, and life feels like a challenge. If this sounds too close to home, it may be a sign that you’ve strayed from your true north. Danielle suggests checking in with how you feel when you encounter these moments or seasons of life.
“When we fall into behavior or patterns that are out of alignment, we might feel uneasy, tense, confused, dread, or the heavy weight of doubt. When we feel solid and secure in our decision-making, there’s often a sense of enthusiasm, excitement, joy, [and] feeling grounded,” Danielle offers.
Stay aware of self-criticism, which easily seeps into all aspects of your life. Danielle’s found that clients often become critical of themselves when they feel trapped in an unwelcome cycle. The key here is to become aware of your feelings and to acknowledge the discomfort, seeking to understand its source.
You may be shifting into a new season of life and the transition’s proving to be more uncomfortable than you expected. Even if intellectually you understand that high school habits don’t quite work as you’re navigating life today, the shift can cause a rift.
“I like to remind clients that tension means pay attention,” Danielle says. “Experiencing a growing pain can be an indication that we’re outgrowing one of our comfort zones.”
TURNING INWARD FOR REFLECTION AND INSPIRATION
Getting quiet and looking to your inner self is one of the hardest things you can do. In Danielle’s experience, she sees clients go through a process of self-awareness, radical self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and taking action when necessary. It’s intense and critical for arriving at a place where you love yourself, flaws and all.
“Some of the biggest barriers to self-love as adults are comparison, cynicism, and self-criticism. So, when someone is struggling to love themself, and I tell them that they are worthy of love, a part of them truly wants to believe it,” Danielle shares. “But it’s generally in those soft, squishy, vulnerable moments when our inner critic rears its ugly head, rolls its eyes, and thinks, ‘Pshh. Yeah, right.’ We’ve gathered so much evidence from childhood, middle school, high school, breakups, breakouts, losing jobs, or losing friends, that it feels so hard at times to say, ‘I love myself,’ and mean it.”
To begin your own self-love efforts, try one or both of these exercises:
- Use a small mirror, look into your eyes, and say, “I love you.” Practicing saying “I love you” can evoke powerful emotions and healing over time.
- Find an image of yourself as a young child or infant, and try to tell that little kiddo that you love them. That version of you is still inside and is worthy of love and belonging.
RECOGNIZE AND HONOR YOUR JOURNEY
Setting a rigid goal in any facet of life can encourage discomfort and dissatisfaction. In reality, we’re all a bit like Goldilocks, needing to first try things out to see if they’re the right fit. Your journey to self-love is no different.
“Holding ourselves accountable to something we said we wanted last year may not feel good this year,” Danielle says. “When we’re in search of a habit or routine to give us emotional stability, we may actually be putting ourselves in a vulnerable position or setting ourselves up to fail. When we’re searching for guarantees, it’s usually rooted in our unconscious need to avoid feeling vulnerable or uncertain.”
Instead, trust how you feel in the moment, no matter what your initial plans were. During your process of discovery, you may have uncovered a new path that you want to explore. Pay attention to those urges and gut feelings. They’re your body and heart guiding you to something worth pursuing. Sometimes, that “thing” is something you focus on for the long haul. Other times, it’s an idea you sample, learn from, and then move on.
WATCH YOUR MOUTH AND YOUR MIND
Just like we tell children, words matter, and often, words hurt. Speak to yourself today with the same kindness and love that you’d hope for your younger self. Just as the younger “you” is worthy of love, the present “you” is also worthy of respect.
This is not to say that you should participate in toxic positive speak, especially as over-enthusiastic responses amidst difficult circumstances can make you feel like you’re living a lie. Instead, consider how you can engage with the people around you while showing up as the most honest version of yourself, conveyed in the best way for the situation and audience.
To do this, Danielle suggests responding sincerely based on your relationship with the individual. You may not need to expose the gory details of your nightmare of a morning with a coworker, but you could spill that traumatic experience with a close friend over coffee. Aim to strike a balance that leaves you feeling authentic.
UNLEASH YOUR POTENTIAL
To make lasting change, you need to manage your expectations about what exactly change is. Danielle cautions people to remember that they have more practice handling a situation in the way they’ve always done it. Here are some of her best tips for when you set off on your self-love journey:
- Go easy on yourself. Trust that you will likely do the thing you’ve always done when the pressure is on. So if you feel you’re starting to talk negatively to yourself and you recognize it, the victory in the beginning is bringing awareness to the fact that you’re doing it. Seeing the “problem” clearly is the first step in changing it.
- Remember your “why.” When people experience pain, discomfort, or disappointment, there is often an accompanying sense of urgency for change. It’s not necessary to hold on to the pain to maintain change, but remembering why this change was important to you in the first place can help you stay on track.
- Think of change like a spiral. If you think of change linearly, or like stair steps, when you stop making forward progress, or “slip up,” it can feel like you’re backsliding. But if you think about change like a spiral, it becomes more forgiving. The progress lies in the ability to recognize what’s happening, to acknowledge it sooner, ask for help when it’s needed, and take time to rest before reaching burnout.
- Get comfortable with making mistakes. Progress isn’t about never making mistakes, it’s in your ability to meet your needs and communicate those needs with the important people in your life.
Natalie Derrickson is a communications professional, strategist, and writer who’s constantly rediscovering herself and her passions, even when life’s at its craziest. You can connect with her on Twitter, LinkedIn, and on her website.
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