Maintaining Self-Love During Stressful Times

Woman holding a heart shapeIf you’re a student of history, you’ve probably observed that although technology has advanced exponentially since the era of the caveman, human nature has stayed pretty much the same. Although we have our computers, iPhones, iPads, Mp3’s, cable TV, etc, humans are still hardwired to react to anxiety-provoking incidents with a myriad of predictable physiological reactions. Perhaps you can relate to being placed on hold by an automated avatar or being lost in a company’s phone system’s answering loop.

Your instantaneous physiological reactions might include rapid heartbeat, tightened muscles, heat rising into your head and neck area, clenched teeth, increased sweat, as well as an increased propensity to scream your dissatisfaction to the non-existent persona on the other end of the line. In short, you’ve just been hijacked by your autonomic nervous system and you’re “stressed.”

We all want that magic carpet ride to serenity, calm, and peace. However, there are more scenarios that can undermine your peace of mind. A few universal stressors are relationship problems, parenting issues, overbooking, work stress, and financial worries.

How do these dilemmas undermine your self-love? Many people, unfortunately, measure their self esteem, and similarly their self-love, by their level of accomplishment. As long as everything is going well, meaning that you’re upwardly mobile, spouse and kids are successful and satisfied, and the money is rolling in, it’s fairly easy to love yourself. After all, you’re a winner, right? Self-love comes easy under these circumstances.

However, life can be cyclical. Adults, who realize that both bad and good times pass, have the advantage here over teens, who often suffer greatly after new adversities and wonder if they will be happy again. When the tide rolls out and adversity strikes in the form of a divorce, illness, or financial hardship, what happens to the feeling of self-love? Often, it’s the first loss as self-esteem plummets and your ability to feel like captain of your ship begins to fade.

This is where the opportunity for developing genuine self-love can take root if you take the challenge seriously. It’s during these times that people are most likely to give in to blame and to blame either an outside source, such as the bad economy, or worse still, themselves. Thoughts such as “I’m a loser,” or “Things will never get better,” get a firm foothold in one’s consciousness. Thoughts such as these have a tendency to become hard to shake and repeat over and over.

What you are actually doing at this point is programming yourself to believe these words as statements of fact. Once this occurs, your words and actions start to change as to reflect your new beliefs. You may find yourself saying,“There are no jobs out there. I might as well quit looking,” or, “Things are never going to get better for me.” Then, as a result, you actually do quit looking. You are no longer optimistic about your future and your supply of self-esteem runs dry.

The good news is that you can turn this self-defeating cycle around. As Louise Hay, in her book, You Can Heal Your Life, attests, “No matter what the problem, the main issue to work on is loving the self.” Instead of dwelling on the problem, “I’ll never pay off this loan,” make a declaration of approval for yourself. “Even though I have these problems right now, I love and approve of myself exactly as I am and and I know a solution will come.”

Whether you actually believe this statement or not, say it anyway. Write it down. Repeat it many times a day. What you’re doing is reprogramming your unconscious and motivating yourself towards positive action. The worst thing you can do during tough times is engage in negative self talk. Don’t tear down the temple!

Becoming stress resilient begins with self-love. Criticism is one of the biggest predictors of divorce, and just as criticism divides a relationship, self-criticism divides you from yourself, destroying a most precious resource: your faith and love in yourself. Therefore, the next time you find the seeds of self doubt creeping into your psychological space, counter with a self-affirming response and put stress in its rightful place: last.

© Copyright 2010 by By Teresa L Trower MA LMHC, therapist in Jacksonville, Florida. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Patsy

    Patsy

    August 17th, 2010 at 4:07 PM

    Nice article, Teresa. I have tried repeating phrases and the process made me feel more uncomfortable than the actions I was attempting to change. I felt like a fake because I didn’t believe what I was saying. Yet you say “Whether you actually believe this statement or not, say it anyway”. My question is if I do that, will there come a point when I no longer feel uncomfortable and instead really believe it? Does that take a long time? Thanks.

  • Gabriel

    Gabriel

    August 17th, 2010 at 6:28 PM

    I don’t understand how saying something that’s not real can make it real. If I say “I’m perfectly happy with my life and how it’s going” when really I’m dying inside, that’s going to change everything? How?

    I hope I don’t sound argumentative. I just can’t see how words without anything else to back them up make a difference.

    If I say “I’m rich and have all the money I need” when I have two dollars in the bank and a hundred dollar electric bill to pay, the physical evidence doesn’t reflect the words. I can say it until I’m blue in the face and unless a couple of hundred dollars magically appears in my bank account, it ain’t so. So why would I tell myself something that isn’t true?

  • Sasha

    Sasha

    August 17th, 2010 at 7:02 PM

    I have been through all that is mentioned here.Lost my job and felt like a loser who cannot stand up for his family and provide for them.Luckily for me though,I am a firm believer in God and my faith,combined with the the great moral support from my family pulled me out of that sinking feeling and I didn’t quit trying.I have a job today and have my family by my side.I thank God and all my family every moment for all their support.

  • claire w.

    claire w.

    August 17th, 2010 at 8:23 PM

    Oh! This is so true. When everything is smooth sailing, I feel on top of the world, overflowing with confidence. When there’s a spanner in the works, I kick myself right back down again even when I had no control over whatever happened. In fact I start kicking myself back down sometimes before it does if my good fortune goes on for too long because I can’t believe my luck. I remind myself that something is bound to happen soon to end it and inevitably it does. It’s my way of preparing for the other shoe to drop.

    If words can be so powerful, does that mean I’m bringing that upon myself and if I just didn’t entertain thoughts like that, my good streak would continue? Thank you for giving me something to think about Teresa.

  • steve h

    steve h

    August 18th, 2010 at 4:38 AM

    It is so hard to maintain those positive thoughts about yourself when it feels like everything is going down the drain. I have been out of work for a while now, steadily looking for a job, but no luck yet. I have had dozens of interviews but just can’t seem to be able to seal the deal for whatever reasons. It has been really hard not to get down on myself and when you start thinking like that I know that there have probably been interviews where I have let that influence me in a bad way and I probably have not gotten a job because of that. But I have of late taken a little more time to reflect on things and have come around that it will happen when it happens and the perfect job will be there for me. That has taken a load of stress off of me actually and has allowed me to stop feeling so bad about it all of the time. Yes I want to work but I do not want to get so down on myself again that it prevents me from being able to move forward.

  • Teresa Trower

    Teresa Trower

    August 18th, 2010 at 7:07 AM

    When you are constantly making negative statements to yourself, you are releasing cortisol into your body, which over time is damaging. Further, it kills your motivation, shuts down your abiity to think of new options, and saps your energy.
    Your subconscious hears every thought and tries to make it a reality. If your reality is depressing, this is not the time to give up. Positive affirmations need to be realistic. They need to be attainable. The most powerful affirmations are those that empower you to love and believe in yourself despite your circumstances. Take baby steps and keep the faith.

  • Teresa Trower

    Teresa Trower

    August 18th, 2010 at 7:09 AM

    Patsy,
    You asked if it takes a long time. You can change your feelings in an instant. We don’t have control over outer circumstances but we do have control over our inner world. Sometimes change is lightning fast and sometimes it takes a while. You may want to read, The Molecules of Emotion, by Candace Pert.

  • Teresa Trower

    Teresa Trower

    August 18th, 2010 at 7:14 AM

    Claire,
    I don’t think it’s that simple, but words are powerful. Do you remember something hurtful that was said to you as a child? Did it affect your feelings about yourself? Did it keep you from going after something you really wanted? Do you repeat the same words to yourself now?
    We can’t use words to manipulate the world, but words can determine our feelings of self worth and happiness.

  • Jay

    Jay

    August 18th, 2010 at 8:59 AM

    bad times can really pull a person apart, and with it, the person’s self-esteem too. it can be very hurting to see that you are not worth that much anymore or to have lost a position, you know…i have not had anything big like that happen to me and i just hope it remains that way!

  • victoria

    victoria

    August 18th, 2010 at 10:18 AM

    yes,it can be hard to feel good or even just alright when things are not in perfect order.
    my question is a little different from this but I would be very happy if you can help me:
    If some unpleasant thing happens,like I end up fighting or shouting at someone,I end up feeling very bad and curse myself for having done that.The problem is that when this happens I feel like I am the worst person ever and feel ashamed of myself.And I cannot shake this feeling off easily.What can I do to get away from it?

  • Teresa Trower

    Teresa Trower

    August 18th, 2010 at 11:06 AM

    Accept that you’re human and life can be messy. Communication is one of the most difficult skills. When you’re stressed, the rational side of your brain shuts down temporarily and you tend to say things you regret. A good strategy would be to take a deep breath and a time out before you actually say anything. Then make sure that you’re talking about how you feel and not blaming the other person. The old advice to count to ten has a lot of wisdom!

  • curtis

    curtis

    August 19th, 2010 at 4:50 AM

    I am so worried about the family financial situation right now that I have a very hard time feeling the love. Nothing seems to be getting any better no matter how hard I try, and I feel like the entire family is turning against me the deeper in debt that we get. I do feel responsible but I am not the only one at fault you know. I have to say that it is awfully hard to feel any love for yourself or for anything really when faced with these kinds of financial challenges.

  • Teresa Trower

    Teresa Trower

    August 20th, 2010 at 12:34 PM

    If your family is feeling as stressed as you are, find some outside support so that you don’t totally give in to the fear.

  • Ekaterina

    Ekaterina

    August 25th, 2010 at 8:22 AM

    Love is a very powerful energy. When we love ourselves, we create this energy within us. Then it heals our wounds.

    It is very important to stop blaming ourselves for everything that had happened and look for positive things in any situation.

    For example, we can re-frame any situation: “Yesterday I lost my job. But now I am open to new opportunities and this is a great chance to go forward.”

  • Bianca

    Bianca

    August 30th, 2010 at 11:45 PM

    I wish I could love myself, I really do but I feel like I can’t as if I don’t deserve too. I’m trapped in this abusive relationship where I’m degraded to feeling like nothing where anything I do is wrong and always my fault for whatever reason. Where I’m walking on eggshells just anticipating the next explosive argument waiting to hear what else I’m not doing right and what else is wrong with me. I keep myself extremely busy and scheduled from the moment I wake up till I go to sleep, so that I don’t have to think about my problems and what ever free I have, I don’t know what to do with myself start thinking and feeling bad about myself how nothing I do is ever going to be good enough. Crying myself to sleep, wishing the bad memories would just go away. How does someone with such low self-esteem learn to love themselves?

  • Noah Rubinstein

    Noah Rubinstein

    August 31st, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    Hi Bianca,
    This is Noah, the Executive Director of GoodTherapy.org. I normally don’t have time to reply to comments on our blog, but I happened to see your and was moved to leave you a comment. I want to tell you that Self-Love is often a central issue in therapy and many people struggle to feel love and appreciation for themselves. From my experience, what typically interferes with the natural ability to love and appreciate oneself are protective parts, such as inner critics and others. I don’t think you need to learn to love yourself. Rather I would encourage you to get into therapy with a therapist who can help you to get to know the self-critical/self-blaming parts. My experience has shown me that these parts, as destructive and unhelpful as they seem on the surface, do have a positive intention for and are trying to help, albeit in a very unhelpful way. In therapy, if you can approach these parts with curiosity, you can understand their intention, actually have compassion for the job they are doing for you, and help them to change.

    There is hope, but you probably need a skilled therapist. I recommend finding a therapist who uses Internal Family Systems – this approach is particularly powerful and effective at helping people to work with these kinds of parts – i have found. Of course there are other models of therapy that also work well, but since I have been using IFS therapy for years, I am particularly biased in favor of this model. More information on IFS can be found here: https://www.goodtherapy.org/Internal_Family_Systems_Therapy.html

    I wish you the best on your journey and want you to know I believe that you, like the rest of use, were born equipped to feel self love. But, of course, S— happens in life, we get burdened and hurt by experiences and develop protective parts, like inner critics. If you make a commitment to healing, promise to give yourself sufficient time to heal, and find an adept guide/therapist, you can experience self-love.

    May Self-Love be with you.

    Kindest regards,
    Noah :)

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