We are actually wired to do exact the opposite if you really break it down. Three factors make this a next to impossible cycle to break.
First and foremost is the negativity bias. This is the phenomenon that if there are two equally charged stimuli, the negative one will attract more of your mind’s attention. The negativity bias is what makes you pay attention to what’s wrong with you and the world, and it’s what also makes you gloss over and disregard the positives.
The second factor is because of a “thinking trap” called attentional filtering. We are constantly having to take in an overload of information at any given moment. There is too much stimuli to process, so your mind filters out most of the information coming at you, and this is called attentional filtering. This helps us in that we are able to keep our brains from becoming a jumbled mess, but it also comes with a price. The price is that the world ends up looking like whatever you are focusing on and if you’re picking up only negativity and your flaws, that’s what takes up the space in your mind.
The third factor is the media. You know the saying, “Don’t believe everything you think”? The mind isn’t always the best at processing and perceiving reality, and the media does a damn good job of putting a spin on reality. So lets put all of these factors together. Because of the negativity bias, your mind is more likely to pay attention to your flaws instead of positive qualities and because of attentional filtering from your surroundings and the media, your mind filters out most of the stimuli around you. Therefore, you view yourself as as less intelligent, less attractive, less worthy, less deserving; you get my drift.
So, how do you break this cycle?
First, pay attention to when you are falling prey to the negativity bias. Pay attention to you inner self-talk and what you’re saying to yourself. Chances are, it’s not very nice. Next, become aware of your thinking styles to identify times when you are falling into the thinking trap of attentional filtering. Then, pay attention to the messages you are taking in from your surroundings and the media. Lastly, it all comes down to you.
YOU are the single most important person in learning to love yourself. Not your friend, your spouse, partner, significant other, parents, etc. The power lies within you. Now, how do you do that? How do you learn to love yourself with your flaws, past mistakes, perceived shortcomings, and without feeling completely selfish?
Here are some tips to get you started:
- Treat yourself like someone you love. I ask clients all the time, “What would you say to a friend who had a similar thought?” 99.9% of the time, they say that they would say something supportive and kind. Why is it that we can be kind to others and not to ourselves? It makes no sense. So start. Start being nicer to yourself and treating yourself with love and respect. Make yourself and your needs a priority. That is showing yourself love and is NOT selfish!
- Embrace the darkness in life. Forgive yourself for past mistakes and identify ways you have grown from those mistakes. Growth is always something to be proud of. Realize that your flaws are what make you human. No one is expecting you to be perfect, so why expect that of yourself? Validate all of your emotions, even the painful ones.
- Find a way to tell your story and recognize that your experiences have shaped you perfectly into who you are.
- Fully accept yourself and let yourself share who you are with others. People can sense when others are confident in who they are. It motivates others and gives them hope that they can get there too. By doing this, you are sharing your own personal gift of your self, and it’s contagious!