When we talk about loving ourselves after our breakup, what we’re really discussing is cultivating self-love. Now, this topic puts a sour taste in the mouths of many—the reason being that the average folk has several inaccurate preconceived notions about it.
Some believe it’s a hippie-type idea with no scientific grounding. Some deem it as a one-way ticket to self-absorption and narcissism. And others think it consists of nothing but vacuous phrases riddled with other placebo nonsense that makes one feel better only superficially.
In reality, self-love is none of that.
Self-love has a solid base of empirical research behind it, excluding it from being hippie nonsense. It also doesn’t lead to self-absorption and narcissism; it leads away from those things. And, of course, it’s far from an accumulation of empty fluff phrases. It’s a whole branch of psychology, a whole science. (1)
In fact, there’s renowned psychologists and researchers like Kristin Neff, Carl Rogers, and Albert Ellis who dedicated most of their life to the study of self-love, self-compassion and related matters.
Another common fallacy people have about self-love is that it’s something you’re either born with or not. This, like every other fallacy till now, is totally wrong.
Self-love is not a predefined trait you’re born with; it’s a skill and attitude you can learn, like anything else. Sure, it’s hard, but it’s worth it, as you’ll soon realize.
In this article, you’re going to learn the ins and outs of self-love and eight no-bullshit approaches on how to cultivate it in your own life.
An intro to self-love
There are many different definitions and sub-definitions of self-love, but, at its core, it’s nothing more than treating yourself like your own best friend.
Most people become their worst enemy while going through a hardship like a breakup. This is unsurprising when we consider how many people have been conditioned that they should be “tough” on themselves to get through hardship.
- As a result of this toxic mindset, they develop the following habits of harshness.
- They criticize themselves for not being the best boyfriend/girlfriend they could be and for making mistakes in their love life.
- They belittle themselves for being of lesser status and worth compared to others, most often their ex.
- They judge themselves for being too shy, too forgiving toward their ex, too nice to their romantic prospects, too weak in character, too emotional.
- They keep ruminating on their past mistakes, engage in “what if” type scenarios, and get entrenched in the infamous could/would, should pattern that only leads to more emotional chaos.
Self-love is the vehicle that keeps you from these things — from indulging in endless self-critique, self-judgment, self-belittlement, and rumination.
But It doesn’t stop there. Self-love helps you improve in virtually every area of your life.
It helps you cultivate better relationships, increases your self-esteem and sense of self-awareness, makes you more psychologically resilient, and aids you in recognizing our shared human condition, flawed and fragile as it is. And above it, self-love helps you stop wondering, “Am I as good as XYZ? Am I good enough?”
What’s not to love?
Anyhow, below are five ways you can practice and cultivate self-love yourself.
1. Treat yourself like your own best friend
This exercise contains writing. So grab some writing utensils and settle down somewhere you won’t be disturbed. However, if you’re not into writing, feel free to do this exercise by talking with yourself.
Either way, the most important thing is to keep doing the exercise throughout the following weeks. Eventually, it will form a blueprint for how you relate to yourself long term.
Step 1: notice your inner critic
The first step toward changing the way you treat yourself is to notice when you’re barraging yourself with criticisms. Therefore, try to be as aware as you can of when your inner critic comes to life.
When you catch him at work, think about what he’s telling you. Try to be as accurate as possible, noting your inner speech verbatim. What words does he use? What’s the tonality like — cold, harsh, pissed off? What are the key phrases that keep droning from his mouth? Where are his critiques targeted — your neediness, low self-worth, weird quirks?
At its core, what you’re doing here is trying to get a clear sense of how you talk to yourself. Note down everything. You want to understand your inner critic fully.
Step 2: soften the inner critic’s voice
Once you’ve noticed your inner critic doing his due diligence (being a bitchy dipshit), soften his voice. However, do this with self-love rather than self-judgment.
For example, instead of telling your inner critic, “you’re such a bitch, leave me alone,” say something like, “I know you’re trying to keep me safe and to point out ways that I need to improve, but your criticism and judgment is not helping at all. Please stop acting that way. It’s causing me unnecessary pain. ”
Step 3: reframe the inner critic’s observations
Now that you caught your inner critic and softened his voice reframe the observations he made in a friendly and soothing way.
If you’re having trouble thinking of what words to use, feel free to imagine what a loving and compassionate friend would say to you in your situation.
It may also help if you use a term of endearment that strengthens expressed feelings of kindness and care, but only if it feels natural rather than schmaltzy.
For example, you can say something like, “I know you feel like the breakup is all your fault, and you’re thinking you’re such a horrible boyfriend/girlfriend for letting it happen, but relax. This adversity has nothing to do with your worth as a person. It doesn’t lower it, diminish it, or bury it; it doesn’t affect it at all. You’re okay. Maybe you just made a few mistakes as everyone else does. Perhaps take a nice long walk to feel better.”
As sappy as it sounds, you can also use physical gestures of warmth (i.e., hugging yourself, stroking your arm, or holding your face tenderly in your hands) to call up the emotion of kindness within you.
Due to our mammalian caregiving system, we’ll always respond positively to being held or rocked or hugged or embraced, even if we’re the ones doing the cuddling ourselves.
2. Change your negative self-talk to a more realistic variant
This exercise is an offshoot of the above one. The thinking behind it goes like this: amid heartbreak, we usually get trapped in the habit of talking down to ourselves. We may say things like:
- I’m a piece of shit for screwing up my relationship.
- Recovery is pointless. I’ll never be the same again.
- I’ll probably fuck up my future relationships, too.
These bad remarks are just faulty generalizations. Now, the worst thing you can do is try to twist them into their positive counterparts:
- I’m extraordinary beyond measure!
- I’ll wholly reinvent myself. It’s gonna be easy and quick.
- I’ll never fuck up my relationships again.
Contrary to typical self-help, overly positive self-talk is just as toxic as its negative variant. Both have the potential to turn people into narcissistic special snowflakes.
So, since positive self-talk is off the table, and staying in the negative is obviously equally destructive, the only thing left to do is be realistic about the whole thing.
More specifically, when you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, give it a realistic twist:
Negative: I’m a piece of shit for screwing up my relationship.
Realistic: I just made some mistakes, as we all do. The fact that my relationship didn’t work out doesn’t make me a bad person.
Negative: Recovery is pointless. I’ll never be the same again.
Realistic: Recovery is not pointless. It’s paramount for my mental health and future love life. It’s going to be hard, sure… and undoing my flaws that led to the whole breakup, even harder. But it will be worth it.
Negative: I’ll probably fuck up my future relationships, too.
Realistic: Considering the number of people on Earth, I’ll probably find one who’s a good fit. And yeah, maybe I will fuck up the relationship with them, too. But, I shouldn’t let one failed relationship determine the outcome and my mindset about all the future ones. It’s just not a realistic nor healthy outlook.
For best results, write down your negative thoughts and their realistic counterparts, don’t just ponder on them.
3. See how ordinary and boring your breakup really is
Thinking that your suffering and loss and grief are abnormal only alienates you from everyone else. It also makes you feel entitled and superior.
The truth is that everyone feels those things, and most people have it way worse than you. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but your breakup really is nothing special. Once you realize this, you’ll find yourself way more loving and grateful.
So to achieve this, your best bet is to talk with other breakup survivors. If you have a friend who’s also heartbroken, great! Have a chat with them over coffee (or whiskey). This will also keep your loneliness at bay! However, if none of your friends are currently heartbroken, don’t worry.
Thanks to the Internet, there are many breakup-recovery groups, forums, and communities where people from all over the globe conglomerate to discuss their heartbreak, vent, and help each other out. Find and join these assemblies.
You can also volunteer. That should get your struggles into perspective. Perhaps join the help crew at a homeless shelter or spend time in a childhood cancer ward.
There, you’ll find suffering much worse than yours. And as a result, begin to realize how your problems aren’t all that life-shattering.
Another thing I would try is an ancient Stoic exercise for developing a more realistic perspective on your problems. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Zooming out
Find a spot where you won’t be disturbed and make yourself comfortable. You can stand or sit. It doesn’t really matter.
Next, close your eyes and imagine yourself staring at the world and everything on it from outer space. Observe the clouds, the mountain tops, and the valleys and hills below.
Step 2: Zooming in
Now, zoom in. Gently drill down from the clouds and mountain tops down to the city streets, the serene villages, and the people in these areas.
Observe all that’s happening across those domains, the good and the bad, the beautiful, and the sinister. First kisses. Childbirth. Novel inventions. Brilliant discoveries. New art. Robberies. Murder. Wars. Rapes. Affairs. Breakups.
Be sure not to judge any of your thoughts and experiences. Simply observe them.
Step 3: Comparing and reflecting
Lastly, get perspective on your problems by reflecting on how minuscule they are compared to everything else going around in the world.
You probably realized at some point that a) other people are struggling with the identical issues you’re going through, and b) most have it way worse than you.
Because let’s be real; the fact that you’re reading this article means that you are richer and more educated than 99.5% of people in human history.
4. Acknowledge and validate your pain
We’re all wired to avoid pain at all costs. And while that’s a normal instinct, we often forget that it can turn destructive, especially in cases where our pain can’t really hurt us.
For example, no matter how painful your heartbreak, it fundamentally can’t hurt you. But if you constantly run away from it, try to suppress it, or somehow stuff it under the proverbial rug, you train your brain to believe that it can hurt you — that it’s dangerous and bad.
As a result, you’ll likely feel (even more than usual) fear, anxiety, anger, and even shame on top of heartbreak.
So how does one avoid this? By acknowledging and validating their pain.
Let’s unpack acknowledgment first.
Months after a breakup, something reminds you of your ex, and you feel overwhelmingly sad. Rather than immediately trying to distract yourself, you could acknowledge that emotional pain by saying, “I feel sad, despondent, and lonely right now.”
This may sound a wee bit simplistic on the surface, but it works. And even if the acknowledgment of your pain doesn’t give you immediate relief, it still does something way more powerful: it trains your brain not to fear painful emotions — it builds emotional confidence.
Now let’s discuss validation.
The way you would validate your pain is simple. Right after you acknowledged that it’s within you, remind yourself that it’s okay to feel it. It’s okay to feel the things you feel. What tends to feel bad isn’t always necessarily bad.
Here’s a practical example of how validating your pain would pan out.
Let’s say you’re browsing Facebook while suddenly coming across a post from your ex. They’re making out with some other dude/dudette. The sight immediately puts you into a shitty mood.
You become sad, insecure, anxious, and even angry — toward yourself for screwing up your relationship and toward your ex for moving on so fast.
But thankfully, you catch yourself in your sour mood and acknowledge your feelings. Then tell yourself:
“I feel like shit right now. It truly sucks. Everything sucks, but just because I feel this way doesn’t make me a failure, a bad boyfriend/girlfriend, or someone who’s destined for failure in his/her love life. I loved this person, and therefore my reaction is normal, even justified. And I’ll be okay. In fact, I’ll be better than okay. I’ll grow into a better person.”
Ultimately, think of validation as a pressure-release valve on emotional distress. By validating it, it grows less powerful and intense. Sometimes it even fades entirely.
5. Get some space and claim it
First things first. Go no-contact if you haven’t yet. In other words, put your ex on radio silence — unfriend them, delete their number, maybe even block them entirely. And, of course, refrain from reaching out to them.
After this, go on a trip for the next few weeks — a minimum of two. On this trip, you’re going to be doing some self-work. Specifically, you’ll be focusing on three things: reconnection, clarity, and enjoyment.
First, you’ll reconnect with who you are, what you care about, and what you stand for. Second, you’ll work on getting clarity despite the crushing emotional riptides swirling around your heart. Last, you’ll relax and indulge in the things you love to do.
In practicality, this would mean taking time off from your everyday life and traveling to a place you enjoy. Perhaps even a place you haven’t yet visited. There, you’ll work on moving on, (or simply letting go of your ex if you want them back), relaxing, and on participating in activities that you enjoy.
This is your time to be selfish. Take it.
Having some space away from the conventional worries of life will help you find yourself again, and you’ll get a broader perspective on your breakup because of it. Not to mention how more inclined you’ll be to acting as your own best friend. And don’t get me started on how energized you’ll feel afterward.
Now let’s focus on claiming that special space.
Claiming essentially boils down to acting assertively and establishing solid personal boundaries around your me-time trip. It’s the ultimate form of self-love.
Boundaries remind us that we are more than our feelings at any given moment. One could even argue them courage incarnate.
In practicality, this would mean giving yourself space to think, heal, and relax despite knowing the outside world wants your attention.
It would mean that you get your ass outside and participate in life despite feeling lethargic and lazy.
It would mean looking after yourself first and foremost, despite having urges to help others and make sacrifices.
On a final note, I’m not saying become a selfish asshole, but I am saying become more selfish than usual — at least until you’re on your little adventure.
Always Mind Intentions
Regardless of how you’re approaching self-love, there’s one thing you should always keep in mind: do it for the right reasons.
If you’re doing any of the activities mentioned in this article (or any other related ones) because of outside influences — like me telling you to do them — then that’s not true self-love. At least not an effective form of it.
However, if you’re doing activities that encourage self-love because you want to — because you believe in them — then you’re doing this shit the right way. Do it the right way.
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