Healthy Self Image: How to Love Yourself For Who You Are
Self image affects your physical and mental well-being. So go ahead... love yourself.
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JulieAnne Cross of Stanton was 24 before she began to love herself. She had struggled during her younger years, always feeling that she didn’t measure up—that she wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough or talented enough. No matter what others told her, she just didn’t believe them.
“I had grown up in a situation in which many of my family members valued the superficial—your looks, your clothes, your possessions. They judged a woman by her looks and her ability to attract a man, but I didn’t date much when I was younger, and I never felt that I was as attractive as others,” Cross, now 43, says. “And the longer I wasn’t part of a couple, the more I doubted myself. ‘Why doesn’t anybody love me?’ I wondered.
“I remember when I finally made the transition from being insecure to being secure,” Cross says. “I came to a situation where I was forced to go out and socialize by myself. I didn’t want to go alone, but I did. After that one event, my whole world changed. By forcing myself to be secure, I really did become emotionally secure.”
What it Means
Sometimes, the idea of loving yourself can get a bad rap. After all, when we want to say that someone is self-absorbed and narcissistic, we say, “He’s in love with himself.”
But that’s not at all that psychologists mean by self-love. To love yourself means to accept yourself as a person worthy of care and respect—from yourself and others.
“People have a strange notion that loving yourself is narcissistic, but it’s not the same thing at all,” says Wilmington psychologist Julie James. “I recall talking to one woman who was embarrassed to admit that she really likes herself and who she is. Rather than be embarrassed by liking ourselves, we should all be striving for it.”
“How we feel about ourselves and how we perceive ourselves dictates most of our lives—our decisions, our perceptions of the world,” James says. “If we really like ourselves, we will make choices from a more entitled, strength-based place. To love yourself means you believe you have something to offer, that you deserve things, that you have a sense of worth and value.
“People who don’t feel good about themselves lose their voice and are tentative about their own worth,” says James.
In most cases, loving yourself is not an either-or proposition, but a continuum. Some people have achieved a high level of self-acceptance, and some people truly loathe themselves, says psychologist Kim Champion of Pike Creek Psychological Center in Newark. “But most people fall somewhere in the middle. There are things they like about themselves and things they don’t like. There are times when we accept ourselves and other times when we are too hard on ourselves.”
Very few people don’t have any areas where they feel insecure and vulnerable, James adds, and the ability to love yourself is “something that’s always in motion.”