5 Tips on How to Love Yourself When You Have a Mental Illness

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This morning, my middle schooler brought to my attention a quote she heard on social media:

“Can anyone say they truly love themselves?”

I asked her if she loved herself and to my relief she said, yes, except for how tall she is. 🙂  Then she asked me if I loved myself.  My breath caught in my throat as years of self-hatred flashed before my eyes, and I hesitated for half a second before giving her my best answer:  I love my true self, but I don’t like everything that I do.

I prayed she didn’t notice my hesitation, because I want to lead by example and instill a good sense of self-worth within her, but apparently, and thankfully, she already has that despite my poor self-esteem and overall dissatisfaction with my appearance and behaviors.

I went on to explain to her that our “true selves,” our spiritual selves, are different from our human selves, and that I really love my true self, the pure, perfect side of me.  It is the human side, the ill side, that is hard to like sometimes.  She looked at me like I was crazy, because, well, she’s only twelve and I was getting way too philosophical for her.  🙂

Our conversation got me thinking though, about how much I dislike myself because of my mental illness, its symptoms and subsequent behaviors – the depression that leads to crying and laying in bed all day, the irritability that leads to losing my temper with the kids, the anxiety that leads to extra work for my husband to do.  All of these things surmount to loads of guilt and self-hatred, thereby perpetuating the symptoms which caused the behaviors in the first place.

How do those of us with mental illness combat this destructive thinking; disrupt this negative thought cycle?

How do we come to love ourselves despite our mental illnesses?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Change our thoughts – I know, I know – easier said than done.  A long time ago, I even wrote about how impossible it can be, (How Positive Thinking Can Be a Crock) but try replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.  For example, instead of thinking, “I’m such a loser,” say to yourself, “I am a kind, thoughtful person with friends who enjoy my company.”  If you can’t bring yourself to think of positive thoughts, that is ok.  Don’t stress over it.  Just being aware of the negative ones is a good start.
  2. Keep a thought journal and write down any negative thoughts you have that day in one column.  In a second column challenge those thoughts.  For example, when my daughter said she didn’t like the fact that she is taller than everyone else, I said, “Even though being tall is an advantage when playing volleyball?”  She said, “Oh yeah, I guess I do like being tall then.”
  3. Make a list of positive attributes in your journal.  If you have a hard time coming up with things, ask friends or family members for ideas.  Keep adding to the list and refer to it often.
  4. Practice, practice, practice.  Just like learning any new skill or playing a sport, you won’t get good at this over night.  It will take lots of repetition before it becomes more automatic.  I have been keeping a thought journal for almost two months now and I still have a hard time catching myself in the midst of self-criticism, but this brings me to the final tip:
  5. Don’t give up!  Keep trying.  Have faith that it will work and that your joy and peace of mind are worth it.

And remember:

You are not your mental illness.

Your true self is perfect.

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