This article is a guest post written by Lily Calfee. Scroll down to About the Author to learn more about her work and message.
In my early 20’s, my life was a rollercoaster. One day I felt young, free, and beautiful, and the next I was debilitated by self-doubt, anxiety, and fear. In retrospect, I think that may just be a part of growing up, but at the time I felt like something was really wrong with me. My periods of insecurity were compounded by guilt and self-judgement which sent me spinning into weeklong cycles of existential crisis and depression. Being a Virgo and generally solution-oriented, I search the self-help section of my local bookstore and decided that my solution was nutrition. I quit my job, left my boyfriend, and went back to school.
Nutrition school improved my life enormously thanks to improvements in my physical health, but I kept running up against a problem. I took great care of myself; not just by eating more nutritious foods but also by meditating and allowing myself enough sleep and time outside. It became apparent that walking the ‘self-care’ talk wasn’t enough, I also needed to think better about myself.
I was raised in a society where modesty was valued in women. My mother and grandmother modeled generosity, compassion, and thinking of others’ well being, but I did not learn how to have compassion for myself. After I had upleveled my eating, moving, and sleeping routines, it felt counter-intuitive to have a tiny voice in my head who was shit-talking me all the time!
Caring for my emotional body became more intuitive after I had been caring for my physical body for a while. I have come to understand that many people take that journey in the opposite direction; without mindfulness and positive self-talk, it is difficult to maintain habits that benefit our physical health. Whichever path has lead you to this practice of self-care, I salute you for following it. Now that you’ve become more comfortable value it your body and expressing your self-worth, it can be extra frustrating to be surrounded by people who negatively talk about themselves, have no self-care practices and don’t show their love themselves.
In my life; eating foods that make my body feel good are my #1 way of expressing my love for her. It’s not about calories or weight or superfoods, it’s just about feeling good in my skin. So, I eat a lot of vegetables and drink a lot of water. Some of my friends don’t, and they judge me for drinking less beer and eating less pizza than I used to. I, in turn, judge them for trashing their bodies and talking down to themselves. My first collision with this conversation was actually on a first date, right after graduating from nutrition school. This very tall, handsome, intelligent (blah, blah, blah) British man asked me, “Aren’t you worried that everyone you love will die before you do?” Wow, buddy, yeah. Now I am! So, the question that I have been asking myself recently is this:
How do I express my love for myself without sounding like a preachy jerk?
Here’s the deal: One day you’re a punk poet living the high life in the big city, drinking coffee in the morning and beer at night and having lots of fun with your artist/musician posse. You make friends by ‘co-complaining,’ putting yourself down, and commiserating with your girlfriends’ lack of self-worth. The next thing you know, gluten makes you sick and you can’t sleep when you drink coffee and you’ve got a major anxiety disorder from trying to balance your social life with your newfound nutritional needs.
If you don’t feel supported in your choices to care for yourself, the first symptom you might notice is self-doubt. If the people I care about don’t get what I’m doing, maybe it doesn’t make sense. Maybe I should try eating like they do; maybe I can drink beer and eat pizza and still feel good? Maybe I’m being too sensitive; maybe I don’t actually need 8 hours of sleep? Maybe criticizing myself and complimenting others is the only way to build real friendships?
The only way to respond to that kind of thinking is to get super clear on the basis of your motivation: your WHY. What exactly motivates you to care for yourself? Pause for a moment to take a deep breath and center yourself, and then give yourself a full page in your journal to answer this question:
Why is it important for me to care for myself?
Get specific. Your answer might look something like this:
It’s important for me to be able to focus and to do good work. I feel so much clearer mentally when I eat well and get sleep and don’t depend on coffee to get me going in the morning. Meditation and mindfulness make me more more engaged, calmer, and more creative. Creativity really contributes to my happiness and I feel more creative when I’m not bloated or foggy-headed. I want to make a big impact on the world and I can’t do that if I am hungover or distracted by my body feeling crappy. I also can’t change the world if I’m constantly putting myself down, so it’s important for me to value my own strengths and believe in myself.
This exercise will give you clarity around your purpose—not just for being good to your self, but also for the work that you do. This purpose becomes your compass setting. In any decision, you can ask yourself, Will this move me towards _______ or away from it?
So now you have clarified your purpose. But even if you know your WHY, you still might have friends who disagree with your methods or doubt your choices. Haters gonna hate—but what if these people aren’t haters, they’re actually some of your closest friends?
When your friends doubt your choices, it’s usually because they don’t understand where you are coming from. Maybe they had narcissist parents and the only way they know how to get love is to criticize themselves. Maybe they’ve had loved ones deal with restrictive eating or other trauma that makes your healthy choices emotionally triggering for them. How can you help them understand your self-loving actions without being self-righteous and dogmatic?
Sharing your experiences can go a long way. My favorite method for having difficult conversations is a process I adapted from a book called Naked Truth, by Sage B. Hobbs. It’s best done one-on-one and in-person. You can even ask your friend’s permission to have a conversation, like, Hey girl, do you have some free time? I’ve been thinking about something and I want to talk it over with you. This gives them agency in the conversation so that they don’t feel stuck or attacked.
- First, acknowledge all the things that you love about your friend. Appreciate them for supporting you in different adventures, for having your back when stuff gets rough, for always picking up your calls and responding to your early morning texts.
- Take responsibility for your part in the misunderstanding. You might acknowledge that you haven’t shared your full story with them, or admit to hiding from them during some of your darker moments.
- Ask if you can share more vulnerably with your friend. While this might be scary for you and them, vulnerability is what creates closeness. (This is a good opportunity to make sure that this person is really someone that you want to be closer to. Sometimes we crave the most validation from people who remind us of a critical parent or an ex. Check in with yourself about what lies at the foundation of your desire for a relationship with this person.)
- If your friend agrees, share with them your objective experience. Objective means without bias or emotion, and it might look something like this: Before I changed my way of eating/moving/relating to myself, I experienced a lot of anxiety/digestive distress/self-critical thoughts. I discovered that _______, ________, and _______ really help me feel more at ease/energetic/clear-minded. Now, it’s really important to me that I ______, _______, and ________ because I don’t want to go back to feeling ____________.
- Now, take a breath; allow your story to sink in and questions to arise. Recenter yourself in your intention, which is to create more intimacy and a deeper friendship with this person. Be patient and generous with your responses.
- Make a request or ask a question. What would it look like if this person totally supported you? You could ask them for a specific kind of support or just to generally be your cheerleader.
- Thank your friend for taking this time to talk to you! Even if the conversation didn’t go exactly as you had planned, you guys are still building intimacy.
Okay, great. Now you’ve had a heart-to-heart or two and you’re feeling more connected with your friends. It’s super hard to watch those friends trash themselves and their bodies! How do you say something about their habits without being all ‘holier than thou?’
It’s pretty difficult to come right out and say, “Hey, you should love yourself more.” That’s a sure strategy to shut someone down and make them resistant to any future conversation with you on the subject. Even a more subtle approach can be risky. Something as benevolent as, “Hey, have you considered _______?” can set someone on the defensive.
In my experience, it’s best to ask questions. Instead of telling your friend what to do, ask really open-ended questions to get them talking about their experiences. You can lead with a little bit of vulnerability to show that you’re ready for some real talk. Examples:
Ugh, I’ve been having a hard time falling asleep. What do you do before bed to help you sleep well?
I’m trying to figure out what to eat for breakfast these days. Do you have any standbys that you love?
What do you think about the whole #MeToo movement?
What are your favorite girl-power blogs or podcasts? I need something new to read/listen to…
I feel like I’ve been eating my feelings recently, you know what I mean? What’s your go-to pick-me-up?
I’ve been trying to hold strong boundaries with the person I’m dating. I really admire women who take no shit—I think it’s so impressive. What’s your relationship M.O. like right now?
Once your friend opens up a little bit, gently ask to hear more about their experience. You want them to feel heard and loved, not interrogated. Folks usually know what’s missing from their lives—they just don’t know how to find it for themselves. Be a safe space for your friend to speak openly and only offer advice when they distinctly ask for it. If you’re not sure, you can offer, “Are you looking for advice or do you just need to talk?”
Okay, we just covered a lot. To recap:
Here’s a step-by-step map for loving yourself around your friends without becoming a preachy jerk.
Step One: Banish self-doubt by clarifying the purpose that drives your self-loving choices.
Step Two: Get a few close friends on your team by sharing with them, using the exercise adapted from Naked Truth.
Step Three: Become a safe place for your friends to talk about their stuff and then just listen. Offer advice if they ask for it, or clarify if you’re not sure what they’re looking for.
With a little practice and patience, you’ll develop the confidence to keep doing what’s good for you while inspiring others to do what’s good for them. If people don’t get on board with your self-love mission, they might not be your people.
Now, get out there and keep being a self-love lighthouse. Remember that your actions can inspire others, even without ever having a conversation. Love yourself, and others will follow your example.
About the Author
Lily Calfee is an amateur ethnobotanist and feminist who’s got a degree in nutrition but has come to find that self-love is the most important vitamin. When not traveling the world for the sake of “research,” Lily lives in Denver with her partner and (maybe too) many houseplants and offers self-love and nutrition coaching to folks all over the world. You can learn more at her website [lilylovesyou.com], and follow along with her current adventures on Instagram [@lilycalfeelovesyou].