This blog post was written by Liadan Gunter, Life Coach at Nivati. You can see more of their content on the Nivati platform and on the Nivati blog. If you want to learn more about Nivati, click here.
It’s rather annoying, isn’t it? This concept of self-love. It’s everywhere. Taunting you as you look in the mirror in the morning, or on your drive to work, the supermarket, or wherever you may be off to. On social media. At the drive-through. At church… Constant dwelling on and reminders of caring for oneself. It shouldn’t be annoying, right? We should love and care for ourselves, shouldn’t we?
But sometimes it is frustrating, particularly for those who struggle with it and tend to put others first. Then all the focus on self-love does is emphasized how much you lack it–as if a giant label were printed across your forehead.
Often those who are quick to commend those around them, buy flowers for a friend going through a hard time, and cheer for the success of others assume that giving the same attention to oneself is selfish. In these cases, that constant reminder of self-love or self-care feels like a little too much to bear and confront. But why is self-love hard for so many people?
Our brain tends to have a negativity bias that makes us consciously aware of our weaknesses. That means when we mess up or make a mistake, our brain zooms in on what went wrong, in an attempt to identify an error and troubleshoot the problem.
Additionally, as we navigate the outside world, we tend to see only the successes of others; we aren’t privy to their weaknesses. Thus, our brain creates a distorted image of ourselves, where our strengths are minimized and our weaknesses are spotlighted, leaving us imagining that somehow it’s our weaknesses that define us. All the while, self-love is completely left outside the door in the rain. This makes it a little difficult to make room for self-love, doesn’t it?
Self-Love and the Struggle with Negative Self-Talk
The thing about self-love is that many people would truly love to love themselves more, but the very reminder of it can reinforce just how absent they feel it is in their lives.
In fact, a lack of self-love is usually accompanied by negative self-talk, which is when your inner world is plagued by critical, self-deprecating thoughts. If negative self-talk is left unchecked, it can become a habit that can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. It can be challenging to break this pattern of thinking, especially when it has been a part of your life for a long time. However, it can be done.
A principal characteristic of these two conceptual lovebirds–lack of self-love and negative self-talk–is the fact that your weaknesses are highlighted while your strengths are ignored. However, it is essential to embrace your strengths and harness your weaknesses in order to foster self-love and gain control of negative self-talk.
Strengths and Weaknesses: Their Impact on Self-Love
Our strengths and weaknesses are an integral part of who we are. We are not only our strengths, and we are not only our weaknesses. What defines us is what we do with them. Some may think that if we just embrace our strengths, that will lead to greater self-love, but it’s not that simple. Yes, focusing on our strengths is essential and can help us feel empowered and confident, but it’s equally important that we cultivate a positive relationship with our weaknesses, too. Ignoring our weaknesses is not the answer, but learning to work with them and appreciate them will certainly help you climb onto the self-love bandwagon.
Cultivate a Positive Relationship with Your Weaknesses
One thing that helped me develop a better relationship with my weaknesses was knowing a little bit about how the brain works, because our brain’s ability to learn depends a LOT on making mistakes.
When the brain makes a mistake, it has two potential responses. The first is called an ERN response. This occurs when the brain experiences a conflict between a correct response and an error, so electrical activity in the brain is increased. The craziest thing about this type of response is that it can occur even if you’re not aware you’ve made an error. The second response is called a PE. This occurs when there is awareness that an error has been made and conscious attention is paid to the error. When mistakes are made, it actually facilitates the growth of neuronal connections and helps you learn! In fact, making mistakes is absolutely essential to learning. In fact, when you make a mistake, you’re more likely to remember the material than if you had gotten it right the first time.
Research has shown that the attitude of your work environment or of an individual towards making mistakes directly impacts the amount of effort they are willing to put into learning. It also impacts their wellbeing. That means if you are in a work environment that makes it safe for people to make mistakes, you’ll have stronger wellbeing and be less hard on yourself for making them. Additionally, performance is better and productivity higher in environments where mistakes are valued, not punished.
What’s great about this information is that you can’t really argue with it. Our brains need mistakes to learn. If we completely avoid mistakes, we avoid learning. The next time you make a mistake, remember this: If you didn’t make this mistake, you wouldn’t be learning anything.
Of course, creating a better relationship with your mistakes can be difficult. It doesn’t happen overnight. One thing that can help is trying to be kinder to yourself when you first make a mistake. Think of a baby learning to walk. When it falls down, you don’t yell at it for falling. The baby has never walked before! And then the child usually gets back up and tries again and again and again–until they get it right. It’s through falling that a child learns how to stay in balance, not falling forward, backward, or to the left or right. If the child walked easily the first time, they wouldn’t know their limits, and would likely fall at a dangerous moment.
Next time you make a mistake, reflect on this concept and ask yourself: what mistakes did I have to make before I learned how to stay in balance? Learned how to drive? Learned how to get my eyeliner in a perfect line? Learned to cook my favorite meal? How many times did I mess up that recipe before I finally nailed it?
It’s through mistakes that we learn all the angles of something. What can go wrong? What can go right? What’s shaky about a machine? What makes it work? Mistakes help you get the full picture. If we were talking about a perfectly captured and edited Instagram photo, it’s mistakes that allow you to see the reality of what’s behind the photo, the tricks to making that perfect photo. If you didn’t experience mistakes, all you’d see is that shiny finished product, but you’d have no idea how to create or replicate it. Mistakes give you wisdom as well as tools to manage things beyond what the eye can see.
Flipping the Script: Turning Weaknesses into Strengths
Acknowledging your weaknesses can be challenging, but it is an essential part of developing self-love. When we ignore our weaknesses, we tend to engage in negative self-talk and feel inadequate. However, when we acknowledge our weaknesses, we can develop a growth mindset and work toward improving ourselves.
Just as I mentioned how mistakes are essential to learning, weaknesses can be essential to developing strengths. For example, let’s say you’re struggling through a college chemistry class. You’re surrounded by people who seem to be doing pretty well in it, and next thing you know, your friends are asking you, “Are you sure you want to continue in that class? It’s really hard.” or “My friend is taking that class too, and is so smart, but even they are struggling. Are you sure you want to stick it out?”
In this case, no one is arguing that the chemistry class may be really hard and you’re not the best at it. We could call this a weakness. However, if you give into this weakness and listen to those around you pointing it out, suggesting you take a detour and drop the class–you’ve confirmed it to yourself. You’ve given that weakness greater power over you. Maybe you even carry it with you and start to identify as someone who “isn’t good at chemistry.”
You can turn this weakness into a strength. Let those naysayers fuel you. Let the fact that you are struggling with the class motivate you to study harder, get extra help, do whatever you have to do to learn the material. Who knows… maybe then you will be someone who “is GREAT at chemistry.”
And even if you don’t get an A, you learn that you can push through challenges. Working with your weaknesses doesn’t mean you somehow suddenly become the best– maybe you do or maybe you don’t–but at least you tried, and you did something with that weakness. You tried to turn it into something better, not succumb to it. This is the type of relationship you want to strive to have with your weaknesses.
Now, even if after all that trying and studying you manage to get just a C in the class, you may think, “Well, I suck! I’m even weaker than I thought! I worked that hard just for a C?” Stop right there. Be kind to yourself. Remember all that hard work you put in. Take a moment to be proud of what you tried even if it didn’t produce the results, you wanted right now, and remember that so much can happen in the future. The simple fact that you were working with your weakness is what lays the groundwork for future strengths. Maybe in the next chemistry class you’ll get B thanks to the skills you learned by working with your weakness this time.
Embracing Your Strengths
To cultivate self-love and lower negative self-talk, focusing on your strengths can help. Embracing your strengths involves recognizing your unique qualities and talents and valuing them. It is about acknowledging what you excel at and what makes you stand out from others. It is important to celebrate your strengths, no matter how big or small they may be.
The first way to start embracing your strengths is to identify them. This involves reflecting on your skills, talents, and accomplishments. You can make a list of your strengths and revisit it often to remind yourself of what you do well. I recommend making a list and keeping it in the notes section on your phone or somewhere else where you can access it easily. Refer to the list anytime you’re feeling doubts about yourself.
Additionally, if you’re actively trying to cultivate more self-love, you may consider journaling or talking aloud every day about things you did right, things you like or admire about yourself.
I also recommend writing down the times you are given compliments or feedback from others. That can help you, when you’re feeling down, to remember and acknowledge how the outside world views and appreciates you.
In conclusion, self-love is a journey that involves embracing your strengths and harnessing your weaknesses to gain control of negative self-talk and build self-esteem. It is important to be kind to yourself when you make a mistake or acknowledge your weaknesses. By flipping the script and turning weaknesses into strengths, you can change your negative self-talk and develop self-love. Lastly, maximizing your strengths and focusing on what you do right can help you build your self-esteem and develop a positive outlook on life. Remember, self-love is a garden that takes time and effort to cultivate. However, by embracing your strengths and weaknesses, you can foster self-love and live a fulfilling life.
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