Most of the communication you experience over your lifetime happens within yourself. People walk around with a constant stream of thoughts and feelings inundating their brain.
“Don’t do that, it’s too dangerous!”
“You’re not good enough to do that!”
“You’re too old to achieve that dream.”
“You’re not good-looking enough for him/her.”
It is easy to see why people whose internal dialogue is consistently negative might spend their lives depressed and confused. They turn to food, alcohol, sex, or some other addiction to drown out the noise in their minds. In a recent study published in the journal Psychology and Psychotherapy, researchers A.C. Kelly and J.C. Carter (2015) assigned 41 test subjects, all of whom were diagnosed with binge-eating disorders, to three separate groups. Each of the groups had to follow a distinct three-week course. The first group was instructed to plan their meals and received instructions in self-love through compassion-focused therapy. The second group was told to plan their meals and received some behavior-modification tips. The third group received no instructions.
Interestingly, both of the groups who were given specific instructions managed to curb their binge-eating habits to a larger extent than the group who got no instructions. However, within the two groups who were given different programs to follow, the group which received the compassion-focused therapy did much better. Once they’d learned how to be more compassionate with themselves, they were able to utilize these exercises to increase their self-love rather quickly. Furthermore, the study demonstrated that people who were afraid of being more compassionate toward themselves were less likely to succeed than those who embraced the process with open arms. In conclusion, the study stated the benefits of self-love, but added that it is useful to understand an individual’s fears about the practice before they start adopting it.
Take a moment now to think about your own internal dialogue. Are you compassionate with yourself? Do you forgive yourself for things you did in the past? Do you constantly criticize yourself for your physical and financial shortcomings? If you’re ready to open up a more positive dialogue with yourself and experience the power of self-love first hand, think of your face as a mirror. Every time you experience an emotion, your face changes in subtle ways to mirror that change. Maybe you’re constantly taking selfies and editing pictures to post on social media, but do you ever take the time to look at yourself? And if you do, do you look at yourself with love or do you nitpick your facial features?
A simple mindfulness practice can lay the groundwork for being more loving and compassionate toward yourself. Once you’re more trusting of the person you are, you can head into the world with more confidence and authenticity. Consider the following exercise:
- Find a well-lit room with a mirror, and position yourself in front of it so you can see only your face.
- Relax your face and slowly scan through each area of your face, holding it in awareness for a few moments before letting it go. Look at your eyes, nose, cheeks, and jaw.
- Pay attention to the internal dialogue that starts to happen when you hold different parts of your face in your awareness. If there’s a critical voice in your head, notice it. Don’t try to quell it. Just be aware of it.
- Try to see which areas of your face are holding tension and mindfully try to release any stress or tightness you might find.
- Look at yourself and smile. Treat this moment as you would meeting an old friend. Thank yourself for being the person you are, and tell yourself that things will turn out just fine.
This practice might sound simple, but for many it turns into a revelatory emotional experience. Loving yourself holds within it tremendous power. Before you can be compassionate to others, you have to learn how to love yourself.