The divorce process brings out the worst in the best of us. It shakes your confidence, rocks your self-esteem and challenges you with self-doubt and fears of not being enough. However, loving yourself is the path to a happy life after divorce.
Listening to your inner critic or someone telling you you’re not enough – not good enough, not smart enough, not attractive enough, not capable enough … will hold you back from rebuilding your life and living life to your full potential.
Quietening the self-critic starts with self-love and compassion. Attorney turned life coach Sunny McMillan says that while the mainstream may see this as fluffy and self-indulgent, she believes these are the cornerstones to divorce recovery and coming out the other side whole.
McMillian is the author of Unhitched: Unlock Your Courage and Clarity and Stick Your Bad Marriage. Download your free copy of Sunny’s book at Unhitchedbook.com.
Listen in below or keep reading to learn why self-love is so important, why many of us don’t have this and how you can begin your practice.
What Is Self-Love?
McMillan confesses that as a practicing attorney she thought the concept of self-love was ridiculous and even when she began coaching she would always roll her eyes at self-love.
“But I’ve had to eat those words and healthy self-love is a component of my practice for sure now,” said McMillan.
McMillan sees three components to self-love. First is having an awareness of self. Next is honoring that self, what you know about yourself, your needs, your wants and what’s best for your well-being. And third, is a healthy amount of self-compassion.
Some clients respond asking how they will get anything done if they’re not hard on themselves. McMillan reassures them that there is now solid scientific evidence supporting the benefits of self-compassion and points to the work of Dr. Kristin Neff who has identified a significant stress response in the body when we are self-critical.
Why Don’t We Have Self-Love?
In our culture, we are not encouraged to be kind to ourselves and as a consequence of messages we receive we develop this very critical inner voice.
“It’s something we have to be aware of and it’s a consistent and persistent effort in my experience to be able to have a loving inner voice and to provide that compassion and self-soothing that perhaps we were not given as children for whatever reason,” said McMillan.
Don’t Dwell In The Past
As a coach, McMillan values knowing what happened in someone’s past and serving as a compassionate witness hearing as a client shares their trauma for the first time. It’s one of the initial steps to healing but then McMillan places the focus on how to reprogram the mind going forward.
While divorce can exacerbate or amplify these negative self-thoughts we carry, “it can be viewed as a catalyst to spur us to look at what are the self-limiting beliefs, what is the critical inner voice saying that perhaps is keeping us from moving forward in a healthy and constructive way,” said McMillan.
Notice Your Inner Critic
The first step to self-love is to start noticing how you speak to yourself and what your inner voice is like. Is it a harsh inner critic or is it a cheerleader, supporter? Just having an awareness will start to bring about change.
For example, instead of saying, ‘oh, you really messed that up,’ or ‘how could you do that’ or ‘you’re so stupid,’ start to say, ‘honey, you’re human’, or ‘you’re doing the best you can,’ or ‘sleep on it and let’s get up and try again tomorrow.’
Talking about the critical messages we receive from others, reminded me of the scene from The Help, where Octavia Spencer, playing the role of nanny and maid says to the four-year-old child
You is kind, you is smart, you is beautiful”
These are exactly the sort of messages we need to hear when we’re young but McMillan says based on what we know of brain development, even if your family was doing the best they could unless you received these constantly, you may have picked up other negative messages that lurk in your subconscious.
There are several suggestions for developing a practice of self-affirmation. McMillan likes the work of Louise Hay who advocates looking at yourself in a mirror and saying kind things to yourself. You can also write those positive messages on sticky notes and post them around your workspace, your bathroom, your closet …
Stop Apologizing For Yourself
Another technique is to stop apologizing for yourself and instead of saying you’re sorry for being late, or sorry you forgot something, express gratitude for the way the other person is responding. When I was hiking with my adult kids this past weekend instead of saying ‘I’m sorry I’m being slow’, I said, ‘ thank you for waiting up and slowing down so we can hike together.’
This shift in thinking is about you not seeing yourself as something less than (e.g. I’m too slow to hike) and rather accepting yourself as you are (e.g. we can still enjoy hiking together.)
Be Receptive To Compliments
Affirmations from others don’t work the same as self-affirmations. McMillan shares that with hindsight she thinks she ended up in her marriage because she was constantly looking for external validation. She thought if you had the right education, the right amount of money, if you looked a certain way, that people would love her more and that she would feel better. She describes herself as being blessed with a life that others would consider as having it all and yet inside she still felt crappy.
“All the external validation in the world could not be heard because there was nowhere to receive it, because I didn’t feel it for myself first,” said McMillan. “Anytime somebody gave me compliments, I would deflect it. I would turn it back on them.”
McMillan says once you have self-love, then you have the capacity to receive the love and support others are offering. When people give you compliments or try to support you, notice your response.
“If someone says ‘oh nice shot’ on the golf course or ‘oh, your clothes look nice’ instead of deferring or demurring or trying to turn the compliment back to them, just try to receive it,” says McMillan. “You can say, ‘thank you.'”
Your Divorce Is Your Business
With an institution as recognized around the world as marriage, you can expect that everyone will have an opinion and that opinion may be very different from yours and that’s OK. McMillan works with her clients to help them tap into their intuition and the inner wisdom that comes from that. This helps them to know their own business and to know what is right for them. When others do make remarks or share opinions such as ‘you shouldn’t be getting divorced,’ McMillan works with her clients to develop a system of inquiry so they can respond with integrity and help keep those people out of their business.
Recognize The Pain Of Others
Developing more compassion for yourself also helps you develop compassion for others. Think about the people who are really ugly and that bully other people. McMillan says the chances are that their inner critic voice is way worse than anything anyone else says to them.
“People who aren’t hurting on the inside don’t hurt other people,” said McMillan. “If people are hurting on the inside, it means they probably have a really loud self-critical voice and it was probably something that they adopted from their family of origin or upbringing. Think about how ugly they are to themselves behind closed doors or in their own mind.”
Self-Love Doesn’t Make A Narcissist
With all the media coverage of narcissism, I asked McMillan if there was a the line between healthy self-love and narcissism. She reassured me that there was no danger that developing self-love and compassion could lead to narcissism.
“Those people who have a healthy self-love also have a huge amount of empathy and awareness of the needs of the others,” said McMillan. “Narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths do not. The more self-love you have when you are an empathetic, compassionate person, the more full your cup is and the more you can give to others and help them.”
Being A Happy Divorcee
McMillan, who describes herself as a happy divorcee, believes that happiness after divorce has little to do with who initiated the divorce and everything to do with what you make of the divorce and how you allow it to dictate your life.
McMillan has seen people in her support group who share that it was their spouse who left but when they look back at their marriage, they acknowledge that things were not great, that perhaps it was over for long time before it actually was, and that what they have done with their life since then perhaps would not have happened if their spouse had not left. In leaving, their spouse allowed them to transform their lives in way that potentially would not have happened.
If you’re interested in exploring the origins of your self-doubt or self-hatred and understanding that your early caregivers likely were doing the best they could with the cards they were dealt, then talking with a licensed therapist or counselor, like the ones at BetterHelp may help.
Sunny McMillan is attorney-turned-life coach and author of Unhitched: Unlock Your Courage and Clarity and Stick Your Bad Marriage. Download your free copy of Sunny’s book at Unhitchedbook.com and read more about Sunny at GoldenOverSoul.com, @GoldenOverSoul and on Facebook.
Disclosure: I am an affiliate of BetterHelp which means that if you decide to use their service I may receive an affiliate commission at no additional cost to yourself.