How not to hate yourself

How to make 2019 the year you learn to love yourself

The guide to being a happier person

Radhika Sanghani

It's easy to make New Year resolutions but it can be hard to stick to them. Whether that's giving up on learning an instrument just as soon as you've mastered one song, pulling a muscle during one of your new fitness sessions and then not returning to the gym, or not keeping to that strict diet that seemed like such a good idea just a few weeks ago.

If you struggle to keep up with your new regime do you then make matters worse by focussing on your ‘flaws’ and refusing to accept that being you - with your ability to play that one song on a guitar - is actually, well, just fine? Does the idea of telling yourself ‘I’m happy with who I am’ seem completely unimaginable?

Loving yourself is hard. Really hard. It’s so much easier to love someone else than it is to look in the mirror and feel 100% satisfied with the person reflected back at you. And, at this time of year, when we self-impose a pressure to become a better version of ourselves it can feel that little bit harder.

We all know that we should be our own biggest supporters, but it seems most of us struggle to do just that - be it our looks, where we are in our lives, or the decisions we’ve made.

Instead, we tend to hate elements of ourselves and this can be brought to the fore at this time of year, when we look in the mirror and tell our reflection we're not living 'our best self'.

We hate that ‘ugly’ physical feature we were born with, we hate our lack of willpower when we fail to live up to our expectations, and we hate how we hate ourselves. It’s a cycle, and I don’t know anyone who can truly say they’ve never been affected by low self-esteem and insecurities.

Often, it's much easier to love someone else than it is to love yourself. But in 2019, instead of focusing on the typical resolutions we try every year - why not work on self-love? It's hard, but so worth it, especially for women.

“Men are hard on themselves, but women are particularly so,” explains clinical psychologist Linda Blair, who finds that most of her clients with these feelings are women. In 2016, a study that analysed almost a million men and women across 48 countries found that “overall, men tend to have higher self-esteem than women do”.

“What I say to them is, ‘What are you gaining by hating yourself? How is your life or the life of those around you better because you hate yourself?’ It’s a habit that isn’t making anyone happier, and if they realise this, it gives them a reason to change.”

Treat yourself like a friend

So, the main thing Blair recommends is to talk to yourself the way you would a friend. “We’re very kind to our friends but not to ourselves, and there’s no reason for that,” she says. “Advise yourself as if you were your best friend.”

For example, if you’re telling yourself that you’re a failure because you got fired, try and imagine a friend coming to you with that same problem. Chances are you would comfort them by encouraging them to accept the reasons why it happened, how it doesn’t define their entire character, and how there will be other opportunities out there for them.

Don’t compare yourself to people

“One of the biggest things we do is compare ourselves to other people, especially now with social media and Instagram,” says Jo Usmar, co-author of self-help books This Book Will Make You Calm and This Book Will Make You Happy.

“When we’re feeling insecure, we actively look for flaws in ourselves, and look for things that back up that negative view of ourselves. We also compare ‘upwards’ to people we feel have much better lives than us.” The most common example of this is the way we torture ourselves by spending hours looking wistfully at celebrities’ airbrushed Instagram feeds and wondering why we aren’t as pretty/cool/fun as them – even when we know it’s not reality.

It’s really hard to break this habit completely, so instead Usmar recommends the cognitive behavioural therapy approach of trying to compare fairly. “When you compare yourself and think, ‘Oh, Sarah’s done all this and we’re the same age,’ notice you’re doing it, stop, and make yourself look for a fair view,” she explains. “Like, ‘Yes, Sarah has the dream job but she works 6 days a week and gets home at 9pm, while I have a nice social life.’”

Obviously nobody has a perfect life – even that friend who always posts the best Insta pics – and we should always try to remember that.

Try to have a social media detox

As Usmar says, most comparison takes place on social media. A 2016 study of  almost 2000 young adults found “social media use was significantly associated with increased depression”.

It’s why people like Usmar and Natasha Devon, mental health and body image campaigner, suggest detoxes. “It’s important to have a break from the constant comparison,” says Devon, who points out that most people don’t realise how many hours they spend on social media. One recent study estimated we could spend as much as five years of our lives scrolling through our feeds.

Devon has worked with many young people in schools and says, “those who have come off throughout the festive period have found it to be a really good exercise, and some are continuing it into the new year.” Many told her they've felt less anxious, and generally better about themselves.

You’re more than your body

Body image is a huge source of self-hatred and insecurity. This is particularly true of women, just 20% of whom in the UK say they have high body confidence. That's according to a Dove self-esteem study that interviewed 10,500 females across 13 countries. And, obsessing over physical 'flaws' can make you forget any other positive attributes. Devon says that instead of fixating over our looks, we should focus on other qualities.

“We’re more than the sum of our parts,” she says. “So often the things we compliment each other on have to do with looks - and it’s because we’re trying to be nice - but if you’re on the receiving end, what you subconsciously hear is, ‘I value you because of your shoes and hair’. I challenge people to do a compliment swap, where they focus on people’s personalities and characteristics instead. It reminds them why they’re really loved and valued.”

Write down compliments

In a similar vein, Usmar suggests writing down the nice things that people say about you. “For four days, write down every compliment you receive as soon as it happens. It doesn’t matter how small - write them down. You might not think you’ll get that many, but people are often surprised by how many positive comments come their way. Normally we’re too busy obsessing over the negative things we hear to notice the good things.”

She believes we have a tendency to dismiss positive things because it doesn’t fit with our negative view of ourselves. “By writing them down you force yourself to pay attention to them,” she explains. Plus, “when you do feel low or insecure, you have something you can read back and think, I did do something well.”

Be kind to yourself

The most important thing is being your own best friend and supporter. Being kind to yourself means recognising your needs, and not pushing yourself. That can range from accepting that you’re an introvert and won’t always be the life and soul of a party, to forgiving yourself for not working as hard as you could have when you were a student. 

It’s also about not punishing yourself when you don’t fulfil a goal, and setting achievable goals in the first place. “Don’t set yourself up for a fall,” warns Usmar. “Sometimes, if you don’t like yourself, you’ll make unrealistic resolutions or plans, as a self-fulfilling prophecy to ‘prove’ you’re not good enough.” 

“A lot of people are doing alternative new year's resolutions like relaxation and taking time to do something they enjoy,” says Devon.” She suggests doing things that make you happy instead of things you ‘have’ to do. A good tip is making an ‘I want’ list rather than a ‘to do’ list, as it reminds you of the reason you want to do something, and how it will help you.

Following these tips might not lead you straight to a state of self-love, but they will ease the self-hatred. Ditching your critical inner voice is always going to be a long journey, but it’s one well worth taking.

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This article was first published on 15 January 2018