Turn off self-criticism to build happiness

Whether you are single, dating, or you’ve been part of a couple for so long you don’t remember “before”, I have one piece of advice for you: You need to love yourself. That probably sounds either obvious or really foolish, so let me explain what I mean.

For many of us, it’s easier to point out what’s wrong about ourselves than what is right. It’s easy to find things to criticize.  One example is our appearance. We take great pains to try to look more like what we think others want to see.  For women, that usually means piling on makeup and hair products before we dare step out the door in the morning.

Another problem area is our own perceived deficiencies at work.  We may not speak up because no one would want to hear what we think, or we don’t volunteer because we’re afraid we can’t succeed at a special project or task. Or we may judge ourselves against someone else’s success and fail to recognize the different things we are good at.

But then there are those who seem perfectly content to just be themselves.  I’m thinking of the women who never wear makeup and clearly don’t spend an hour fixing their hair – and they don’t care.  How do they do that?  What makes them so secure while the rest of us live in fear of not measuring up?

I think the simple truth is they have learned how to love themselves.  They are secure enough in who they are that the external trappings of makeup and clothes just don’t matter.  That’s not to say they won’t put some extra time in for a special occasion, but that’s part of what makes it special.  They don’t feel the need to do it every day.

I think this tendency we have to self-criticize hurts us in many ways, including in our relationships.  How can you expect someone else to love you if you are nothing but critical of yourself?  We don’t realize how self-absorbed we become when we obsess about our self-declared faults.

If there’s something about yourself you really don’t like, go ahead and fix it if you can.  Then move on.  If you can’t fix it, you need to let it go.  I’m not saying that’s going to be easy, but it is necessary.  You will be happier and much more desirable to someone else if you are not constantly putting yourself down.  I’m not suggesting you should change to attract someone.  I am saying that you being happy will be a powerful force to draw other people to you, including your spouse or partner.

I like to think that before we learn to love ourselves we are like a big, hairy caterpillar.  There’s tremendous potential hidden inside.  But we have to let go of our current focus on the ugly to let the butterfly emerge.  So give yourself permission to stop trying to be something else and be content with who you are now. When I finally did this, it felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders and I could finally blossom and be happy with myself.

It’s important to remember that words are powerful, including the words we say to ourselves.  If you love someone else, you’ll find things about him or her to compliment.  It might be a new hair style, a job well-done, or the kind way he or she treated someone at the grocery store.  You deserve those same words of kindness from yourself.   So tell yourself what you like about yourself, and don’t be stingy with your own praise.

Once you learn to love yourself, you’ll be ready to share yourself with someone else – to give love and to be loved in return.  I’m not saying loving yourself will be an instant cure for singleness or for a rough spot in any relationship. But when you love who you are, I think you will find you are more content in whatever situation you are currently in – and that will make all the difference in the world for your own happiness.

Michelle King Robson (pronounced robe-son) is one of the nation's leading women's health and wellness advocates. She is the Founder, Chairperson and CEO of EmpowHER, one of the fastest-growing and largest social health companies dedicated exclusively to women's health and wellness.  In 2011 EmpowHER reached more than 60 million women onsite and through syndication expects to reach more than 250 million in 2012.