When we're newborn babies, we're fully, completely, unapologetically ourselves. We don't beat ourselves up over belly fat, baldness or the occasional cranky mood. We explore the world with joy and curiosity, happy to be equipped with fingers, toes and eyes.
But as we grow, we're overwhelmed with messages that we're not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, funny enough, you-name-it enough. We believe the lies, and self-loathing starts to set in.
The truth is, each of us is utterly unique — a veritable snowflake of imperfection — and that's a beautiful thing. Feeling better about ourselves is just a matter of remembering how amazing we really are.
So, when the insidious cycle of self-loathing strikes, here are eight ways to fight back:
1. Don't live in the past or the future.
An attack of self-loathing means you're not living in the present — that you're ruminating about something you did or obsessing over something you haven't done. When you bring your awareness to the perfect present moment, you break free from that mental trap. You face your current experience without all the extra baggage, Bring yourself back to your breath, and stay there: in and out, here and now.
2. Read about your heroes.
Imperfections are a characteristic of being human. No one is free from missteps and mistakes, not Ghandi, not Marilyn Monroe, not George Washington. You'll probably be surprised to learn about some of the socially unacceptable behavior of famous folks. And that's totally OK, because fallibility is an inherent part of the human experience. So forgive your own flaws already!
3. Befriend your demons.
When you get to know the unpleasant voices in your head, you'll be fascinated by what you find. Face them. Be friendly, be gentle, be kind, be curious. Everyone has demons — it's how you handle them that matters. It's amazing what can happen when you acknowledge (without judgment) the parts of yourself you'd rather ignore.
4. Question your thoughts.
Most of us unquestioningly accept our thoughts as truth. But just because we've been thinking something for 20 years doesn't make it true. Start to question the rapid, automatic thoughts that blow through your brain. Write them down, and come up with realistic alternatives.
5. Embrace compassion.
Often, attacks of self-loathing come raging in after we feel we've done something "bad" or wrong. Maybe we drank too much, ate too much, slept with someone we shouldn't have. Forgive your mistakes. Attacking yourself only perpetuates the cycle. Abuse and shame don't stop unwanted behavior. Frequently, they fuel the fire. Instead, acknowledge that you're a human who makes mistakes, and move forward in a positive way, armed with new knowledge.
6. Find your flow.
Nothing pulls you from the prison of self-consciousness like the feeling of flow. Basically, flow is total and complete concentration on the task at hand. When you're in flow, time flies and you forget yourself, which is a blessing for those trapped in a cycle of self-abuse. The best way to cultivate flow is to do things you love that challenge you. So seek out those things and practice them.
7. Get to know someone you envy.
Self-loathing is often a product of social comparison: So-and-so is prettier than I am, wealthier than I am, funnier than I am — BETTER than I am. But when you get to know someone on a personal level, you see them for who they are, flaws and all. Perspective is everything, and it's so important to realize that we're all imperfect.
8. Collect good feelings.
When someone says something nice about you, write it down. When you have the guts to try something new, write it down. When something fantastic happens, write it down. Collect good thoughts and moments like souvenirs, and store these little notes in a box or jar. When you're feeling rotten, pull it out. Read through the good feelings and feel them all over again. It'll serve as a reminder that you — and your life — are amazing and perfect, just as they are.