This post is based on author David Hamilton’s brilliant new book, ‘I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love’. Using science to inspire, it suggests practical ways to create the kind of essential self-love we need to empower us and help us to make good choices in life. It’s a powerful read for anyone who ever experiences the paralyzing uncertainty of ‘I’m not enough’. (In other words, everyone!)
As Dying To Be Me author Anita Moorjani has stated, learning to love ourselves is probably the most important thing we can do.
But we don’t always appreciate it as a thing we need to do.
We work on our appearances and career goals, thinking that ‘if I can just be/get enough X’, then we will feel better. But it never is enough. Or more accurately – we are already enough.
So where does this sense of ‘not enough’, or its friends insecurity, low esteem and lack of confidence, come from? We know we aren’t born that way (hanging out with a toddler will tell you that).
Aside from our parents’ self-love, our self worth levels are influenced by life events. Or more to the point, the stories we tell ourselves about things that happen.
We show ourselves to the world in all our glorious weirdness, only to be rejected and unaccepted. For psyches that are genetically hardwired to want to be liked and approved of (and that’s all of us), it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
Over time, we become poorly self expressed, unauthentic, approval-seeking people pleasers. Or we withdraw from people, life and ourselves, altogether.
It’s possible though for us to ‘unlearn’ negative experiences, and bring our self-love cup back to its original, overflowing state.
But before we get to that: where on the self-love spectrum are you?
The three stages of ‘enough’
David Hamilton suggests there are three stages of self-love: (1) I’m not enough; (2) I’ve had enough; and (3) I am enough.
Stage 1 – ‘I’m not enough’
Many of us hang out a lot here. Maybe we never leave.
If you were bullied at school, had a difficult relationship with one or both of your parents, can recall a humiliating event that happened early on in life – these things all might have shoved you into a self-love deficit.
If you aren’t able to resist the pull of social comparison, and judge yourself against socially constructed ideas of success, then you’ll almost certainly be feeling ‘not enough’.
When we are here, we find ourselves approval-seeking. A lot.
We all seek approval at times, and it is probably unrealistic to expect ‘the need to please’ to leave us completely.
Unfortunately, it’s a catch-22, because when we seek approval, that is exactly what pushes people away. Other people sense that our ability to connect with them authentically is reduced.
Stage 2 – ‘I’ve had enough’
‘I’ve had enough’ is characterized by the attitude ‘I couldn’t give a fuck’ – what others think, their expectations of us, etc. It’s a positive stage, because it usually means a person has started to take control and stand up for what’s important to them in life.
This is the reason why we all love Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen, by the way. Elsa gets sick of hiding away and apologizing for herself – and so are we.
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!
At this stage, although you might be past caring about what people think, you might still be fueled by a desire to prove yourself.
Stage 3 – ‘I am enough’
If ‘I’ve had enough’ is motivated by passion and anger, then ‘I am enough’ has the qualities of defenselessness, resilience and authenticity.
When we get to ‘I’m enough’, we no longer feel a need to prove anything. We focus on others more, taking in interest in what’s going on for them.
Knowing where you’re at – three clues
If you’re struggling to identify where you are at with self-love, then a big clue can be found in your relationships.
We are said to seek out whatever our brain chemistry is used to. If you don’t feel enough, you will select partners and/or relationships that reinforce that, even indirectly.
How you are at work is another clue. Many highly driven individuals are fueled by a lack of self worth.
Its opposite, apathy (or non participation, non engagement) is also driven by a deep seated lack of worth. When we avoid ‘putting ourselves out there’, then we are definitely acting from a place of ‘not enough’.
A third clue is you find yourself silently criticizing others a lot. That’s to do with projection.
As I was writing this post, I came across a quote that made me smile: ‘Unfuck yourself. Be who you were before all that shit happened that dimmed your shine.’ That pretty much hits the nail on its head.
Here are six actions you can take.
Hack your body language
This Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy explains how adopting a ‘power posture’ can transform your state of mind.
And stop talking so fast!
Another key way you can hack self-love from a physiological perspective is by letting ‘I am enough’ become part of your speech and tone.
When we speak from ‘not enough’, we talk quickly because we don’t own our right to be listened to. Slowing your speech down and allowing for pauses in conversation betrays a level of confidence that sooner or later you will feel.
Your confidence might be so low that you are quiet, shy and unsure of yourself around others. As challenging as this is, the way through it is to keep just being with people. If you can separate you from your feelings (you’re not shy; you’re being shy right now), then that will help.
Become aware of people or situations that cause you to behave submissively (think about certain social and professional situations). Use posture and speech tricks to boost yourself.
Practice breaking rapport with people
This is about having the courage to be authentic and express your disagreement with people, without feeling like your self worth is hanging on by a thread.
An excessive desire to please others leads to personal compromises. It’s also stressful and detrimental for health in other ways.
For an insightful explanation of how to disagree with people without being insensitive, listen to this by relationships expert, Matthew Hussey.
And stop judging others
One ultra effective way to set yourself free of the expectations, approval and judgment of others is to stop judging people and expecting things from them yourself.
Cultivate shame resilience
Feelings of shame make it difficult for us to be ourselves. They keep us at ‘not enough’ as they go to the heart of our psyches and our senses of survival.
One effective way to build your shame resilience is by reaching out to someone you trust.
Author and public speaker Brene Brown says “shame cannot survive being spoken and being met with empathy.”
Work that acceptance paradox
Self acceptance, rather than causing us to ‘give up’ on self improvement (which is what we fear), is the best state of mind from which to transform something. This is what’s known as the acceptance paradox.
“Complete acceptance…often leads to a spontaneous desire to be healthy or engage in behaviour that makes you happier” – David Hamilton.
We all want the ability to create lasting change – whether it’s to our health, career goals or the quality of our relationships.
So how do you accept yourself?
Here are two key things you can do.
Practice loving kindness
This is a powerful method of developing compassion. Here’s how to do it.
Forgive yourself and others
It is difficult to feel like ‘enough’ without forgiving ourselves and others.
Body image insecurities are undoubtedly a large part of why many women stay in ‘I’m not enough’. As with forgiveness, the journey towards accepting our bodies can be a long and painful one – and at times seem laughably out of reach.
It can be reassuring to realize that no one is beyond body image insecurity. Actress Angelina Jolie recently said “At 40 now I’m beginning to accept who I am.”
Men live with a different kind of pressure. They are expected to ‘man up’ – appear strong in not just the muscle department, but emotionally. This nonsense leads men to choose to suppress their emotions, which can be catastrophic for health.
Something key to self acceptance is becoming comfortable with who we are.
Time spent in solitude can help improve confidence and build inner strength – especially if you haven’t done that much in life so far.
We also get a confidence boost every time we overcome a fear.
Image wise, taking the focus away from the external and onto health and wellbeing is useful.
Practice being (selectively) vulnerable
We are so used to getting ‘the highlights reel’, that when people show the courage to be vulnerable and authentic, we love them for it.
We demonstrate vulnerability when we write, build or create anything. We’re also vulnerable when we are willing to have difficult conversations with our partners. We’re particularly vulnerable when we choose to love someone completely.
The power of vulnerability is explained wonderfully by Brene Brown (who has also written a book on the subject) here.
We don’t need to go out of our way to be vulnerable with everyone. The act of showing vulnerability with some chosen people demonstrates ‘enoughness’ more than opening up to everyone.
And actually practice!
Learning to be vulnerable is a practice. To start, think about what actions you can take, or conversations could you have, in the next few days that would help you to be more authentic. What can you do more of that says ‘this is who I really am’?
Perform a life inventory
It is difficult to feel ‘enough’ until we have addressed areas of life that we have been neglecting or avoiding. This may involve dealing with challenging relationships or taking control of an unhealthy financial situation.
In his book, David Hamilton suggests seven key things to do.
And work on finding meaning and purpose
One important thing is knowing purpose and meaning in life.
The consistency conundrum
When it comes to self-love, as with many areas in life where we want to see lasting change, we need to be consistent. Change doesn’t happen overnight.
But over time, once we stand, walk and behave in a way that says ‘I am enough’, we rewire the circuits in our brain.
Sometimes, we need to not think things through too much (aka find objections)! People who live from ‘I’m enough’ rarely overthink things.
To prevent inaction, watch out for that gap you perceive between yourself and others. We all feel this; the key is in not letting it change your course of action.
Life in ‘I am enough’
As David Hamilton says, when we accept ourselves, life doesn’t simply stop being challenging. We simply meet difficult situations and people with a different mindset.
Feeling enough also doesn’t suddenly make you less fearful. If anything, you’ll experience fears even more, because you are putting yourself out there and taking on what’s important to you.
Which highlights another ‘secret’ of self-love:
“Self-love doesn’t get you out there. Getting out there gets you self-love. Self-love lies at the edge of your comfort zone” – David Hamilton.
How to you deal with feelings of low self worth? I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch in the comments below.