I think that a lot of us struggle with negative self-talk. In our heads, or my head at least, is a tiny judge that sits and declares when something could have been done faster or better or pipes up when you said something you shouldn’t have or acted without thinking. At the center of this voice are some foundational thoughts. I think for me the main one is that everyone on the planet is allowed to have flaws and make mistakes, except you. It might be a bit out of the ordinary, but one thing that could help soften this inner voice is writing a love letter.
It’s my opinion that an overactive inner critic comes from a fundamental lack of self empathy. I know it might sound strange to think about having empathy for yourself, but here are a few factors that might indicate you have low self empathy:
- You have a hard time letting go of even minor mistakes
- You talk to yourself more harshly than you would ever talk to a friend
- You have a hard time committing to practices that would only benefit you (like a regular sleep schedule, cleaning out your room, or speaking up when someone’s actions affect you negatively)
- You have a hard time understanding what phrases like “self love” really mean, or why they’re important
Lacking empathy toward yourself can have all sorts of negative side effects but the biggest one is that you stop being able to see yourself as what you truly are: a unique person who has both weaknesses and strengths. Lacking self empathy means you aren’t able to extend grace to yourself for mistakes and that you aren’t able to recognize your accomplishments and good qualities with the same sharpness that you see all your shortcomings.
Correcting Your Perspective
I used to think that my negative self-talk made me a realist; that I was able to see through to the “real” me inside in a way that few others could. But over time I learned that I was actually doing the opposite. I was ignoring so much information that didn’t fit into my conclusion in some kind of mission to prove that I was bad! The truth is, when we don’t give ourselves grace we stop feeling motivated to recognize our achievements and strengths and what we get is a completely distorted picture of ourselves.
When I have a hard time feeling empathy for myself, one of the first things I do is picture myself as one of my closest friends, or as a younger version of myself, a child who is just looking for acceptance or forgiveness. If a little child or your best friend came to you in tears over a minor screw up or a lack of productivity, how would you respond? This simple switch in perspective can help you see yourself as you truly are: a person deserving of love, acceptance, and grace.
Have you ever noticed in times of stress that you have a tendency to cross your arms, run your fingers through your hair or clasp your hands together? These are called self-comforting gestures; we’re attempting to give ourselves the same comforting touches we would give a loved one. I think of writing a self love letter as a different kind of self comforting gesture. When you’re in a time of intense stress or self doubt you need reassurance, and writing a validating letter to yourself can become another impulse to help us feel better. It’s a simple way to fill an emotional need in a way that you’ll truly accept because it comes from within.
Writing The Self Love Letter
Here are some keys to remember as you start writing your self love letter.
- Proportion: You’re not trying to ignore your struggles or problems, you’re just trying to emphasize the good at least as much as you do the bad.
- Empathy: Think of yourself as a loved one, someone that you care about or are rooting for.
- Building to a Better Future: Thinking about and identifying your strengths isn’t just good for your self esteem (although that would be worth it all on its own!). Over time, thinking hard about where your passions are and what you’re good at can help guide you to a future where you feel more in step with yourself and help you feel more confident betting on yourself in these areas.
Because this is a letter to yourself and no one else, you get to make all the choices. Maybe writing a formal letter feels awkward for you; that’s ok. Try a bulleted list instead. Write ten things you like about yourself, five things you did well today, or ten things your younger self would be proud you’d accomplished. You could write the letter to a younger version of yourself, or write it as poetry or a song. The only thing that’s required when it comes to writing a self love letter is the self love!
As you write the letter, try to focus on the things that are in your control. Maybe you’ve been having a hard time on your job search. You can’t control when employers will reach out to you, but you can be proud of yourself for working hard and putting yourself out there. You might not have found your ideal relationship yet, but you can be thoughtful about what you want it to look like and invest in your relationship with yourself.
Writing a letter like this doesn’t mean you have to be fake or ignore your struggles, it’s just an exercise in how you express those frustrations to yourself. Rather than listing things you’re disappointed in, what if you got curious about where those emotions come from? Why was this minor setback so difficult for you and does understanding it more deeply help you feel less upset? Try to frame perceived mistakes or flaws not as damning, but as places you’re excited to grow in the future. Think about how you would walk a friend through something they were struggling with; you’d probably want to be constructive and as gentle as possible. Extend yourself the same courtesy.
Try closing the letter with things you hope for the future. Do you hope that a year from now you’ll feel happier and more self-assured? Can you see a path forward through something you’re struggling with, and how does it feel to look forward to a time when it’s behind you? One of the best motivators is hope and visualization, and sparing a moment to reflect on a brighter future can make for a better present.
Turn It Into A Practice
Your first time writing a self love letter might feel like a struggle. If you’re having a particularly rough day, it might be genuinely hard for you to think of positive things to say. But I promise it gets easier over time. I officially give you permission to text some close friends asking them for some ideas. In the days following your first attempt, maybe more ideas will start to come to you. You’ll remember your passion for justice or some kind words you said to a coworker or a really good outfit you put together. Jot these down and save them for your next letter. Soon, this will become more than just an exercise and you’ll start retraining your brain to recognize and validate as many strengths as it does flaws and mistakes.
For more tips on how to make a letter that really sparkles, read our guide here.