In Greek mythology, Narcissus was praised by the gods for his unmatched beauty and extraordinary physique. But, walking by a lake one day, Narcissus bent down to drink some water and was mesmerized by his own beauty. He became gripped with sorrow because he was unable to separate himself from his own reflection, so he died by bank of the lake.
The myth and moral against vanity and conceit is where we get the word narcissism. But, while self-absorption and egoism is unhealthy—so is having zero self-interest.
We need a healthy middle-ground.
Indeed, there’s a famous commandment that says “Love your neighbor as yourself.” You can only express what you experience, and you can only explain what you understand. To love others without loving yourself is like trying to tell someone about a movie you’ve never seen.
Here are 7 healthy ways to love yourself without the narcissism:
1. A self-gratitude list.
Gratitude reduces stress and boosts your immune system. Many of us keep gratitude lists, but they’re usually centered around others and external events.
Turn the lens inward; as part of your gratitude practice, think of three personal things you’re thankful for: how you’ve grown as a husband, wife, father, or mother; how you’ve excelled in your work, and personal goals you’ve achieved.
2. A mental diet.
You are profoundly affected by your thoughts. Negativity increase the body’s stress hormones, causing higher blood pressure and artery wall inflammation.
Cultivate a healthy self-appreciation by deleting and replacing your toxic thoughts. Take a step back from your thoughts, become an active observer—start catching and reducing the air-time for any negativity.
Dr. Emmet Fox’s short piece: The Seven Day Mental Diet is an effective tool for mental mastery. For seven days, get a notepad and mark down every time you have a negative thought about yourself.
Begin to question your thoughts—you’ll realize how irrational they are. Immediately replace them with an opposing positive affirmations—something true and good about yourself. Do it so often that it becomes a habit.
3. Let go of perfectionism.
Having high standards is encouraged, but if those standards only make you feel crushed and defeated, it’s time to give yourself a break.
Many of us have “high-hanging fruit”—lofty goals, but we don’t have any “low-hanging fruit”—the little celebrations that will fuel us toward the bigger ones.
Every time we achieve a goal, our brain gives a rush of dopamine, allowing that sense of gratification. When perfectionism only produces failure, we experience cortisol and stress, and a sense of self-loathing.
Finding little things on a daily basis to celebrate will allow you to experience self-satisfaction and self-love.
4. Change the perception of your body.
Loving yourself means loving your physical body. That’s difficult because we often place happiness solely in our appearance. But consider where the notion that you’ll be happy once you attain a certain look comes from? It’s not innate—blind people are able to love themselves. It’s a social construct, fueled by media—but it is a shallow perception.
A alternative approach for healthy body image comes from Deepak Chopra, “Think of your body as a process—as a verb, not a noun.”
See the value of your body as a healthy vehicle carrying your identity rather than determining your identity. Separate yourself from your body. Think of Nick Vujicic and Bethany Hamilton who’ve achieved great things in spite of their bodies; or Lizzie Velasquez, harshly dubbed “the world’s ugliest woman,” inspiring millions. They’re a testament to the truth that self-worth is not dependent on body image.
Rather, ask whether your body, in it’s current state, is holding you back from doing what you love? Aesthetics have little to do with ability. You’ll gain more happiness and love from your character and what you do, rather than what you look like.
5. Treat Yourself.
When was the last time you went on a date—with yourself? We come up with grandiose ideas to sweep a potential partner off their feet—it’d be nice to apply a bit of that zeal to yourself.
Creativity teacher Julia Cameron prescribes weekly “Artist Dates” to her students. Letting your hair down and engaging in novelty and fun sparks our inner Da Vinci.
Psychiatrist Stuart Brown says, “Nothing lights up the brain like play,” not only does it improve memory but overall happiness and wellbeing.
You’re never too old to laugh and play. Make sure you treat yourself regularly—a piece of chocolate, ice-cream, the nice restaurant, or a deep tissue massage. It’s an act of self-love with benefits for your mind, body, and soul.
6. Make peace with your past.
When the present is preoccupied with regrets from the past, or anxiety over the future, it’s impossible to focus on the present and build concrete happiness. Self-love is introspective, in-the-moment, and cultivated without distractions.
Whether it’s romanticizing the past, or replaying negative events, we become trapped and dictated by it. Many who’ve confronted their past traumas through therapy talk about the inner-healing that comes with processing the negativity.
To let go of the baggage—past and future—is a powerful act of self-love. Forgive those who have hurt you, forgive yourself for any mistakes, and allow yourself a clean slate for the present.
7. A Random Act of Kindness.
Yes it’s paradoxical, but you’ll give to yourself when you give to others. “It’s better to give than receive” is true because you’re also on the receiving end.
Studies have shown that sending someone a thank you email or card, an appreciative phone-call, giving up your seat on the bus, or paying for someone’s coffee, releases the feel-good chemicals dopamine and oxytocin—for the recipient and giver.
Do an act of kindness today to give and receive a self-loving natural high.