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Self Love First Always

Written by Dr. Nicola Eccles on 14 Feb 2023

Romantic relationships are a journey.   Ideally, they involve joy and peace.  In reality, for many of us they do involve joy but this is accompanied by feelings of boredom, frustration, confusion, fear, anxiety, anger and a multitude of other emotions. 

Relationships with others often reflect back on the relationship you have with yourself.  So many of us interact, communicate and begin relationships from a place of low self-worth, low self esteem and with a lack of self-compassion.  That these elements are critical to psychological wellbeing, is recognised.  However, the critical role they play in the relationships we have with others is often overlooked.

When we are not compassionate with ourselves, when we have low self esteem, the way in which we communicate and receive communication from our partners is often from a place of anxiety fear or mistrust.  We may make negative assumptions around behaviours, or we may act out in certain ways in order to prove, or challenge or arouse conflict.  In order to have positive and loving relationships we need to love ourselves first. 

Low self-esteem is not uncommon.  Many people in contemporary culture suffer from low self-esteem and are very critical towards themselves.  This doesn’t constitute as depression or anxiety and so perhaps we don’t seek help.  We don’t see it as a problem because so many of us exist with low self-esteem.  However, we have a lifetime with ourselves and if you don’t feel good about yourself it can really impact you across the lifespan. Without an element of self-worth life will be very difficult and mentally challenging.   Improving your self-esteem and could be the difference between living miserably or thriving.

How you view yourself impacts what you do with your life, the choices you make, how you spend your time and your ambitions.  Crucially though, it directly relates to who you choose to form relationships with and is a strong predictor of how these relationships will pan out. Having a positive relationship with yourself is not a birth right.  Many of us find ourselves needing to work harder to achieve this and establish high self-esteem and worth, particularly in contemporary society which surrounds us with comparison (through social media) which challenges our self-worth.

How can we achieve higher self-esteem?  There are a number of exercises we can do. 

Building self esteem:

We know having high levels of self esteem are important….but it is tricky to develop this

  1. Challenge the negative beliefs that you hold about yourself.  Ask yourself to provide the evidence for the negative statements and then try to counter these with some examples of things you have done that discredit these beliefs
  2. Set some realistic goals and affirmations….if you have low self esteem stating ‘I am going to be successful’ will not feel realistic or true to you.  Better to say something you can relate to such as ‘ I am going to work hard to make x work for me’
  3. Self-compassion is the foundation of self esteem.  Show yourself self compassion and kindness consistently and you will start to feel better.  Behaviour change never comes from a place of self loathing, anger or disappointment.  To gain self esteem you have to make compassion and understanding to yourself for everything you do…a priority.
  4. Accept compliments and engage with them in order to believe them.

Counting the inner critic:

Another exercise is to monitor your critic.  As many times in the day as a negative thought towards yourself pops into your head, write it down.  Keep a notepad beside you for a day.  At the end of the day really reflect on these thoughts.  When do they occur?  What is the pattern?  What is the truth in the critical statements you are making?

Establishing a positive connection with how you feel about yourself and how you see yourself helps with so many things both at work and in life.  Confidence, decision making, communication, relationships, goals and ambitions…the list is endless!

Building self esteem requires work…to change emotional thought patterns.  But it is worth it!

  1. Herroboldt, SJ., Waterson, K. (2021) Don’t just survive, thrive. Ulysses Press
  2. McKay, M., Fanning, P. (2016) Self esteem (4th edition). New Harbinger Press