It is so important to have self-love when you are living with arthritis. It is very easy to fall into the trap of self-loathing, self-body shaming, and wishing you were someone else. But these traps can prevent you from progressing and making the changes needed to improve your arthritis symptoms.
There are several reasons why caring for your yourself with arthritis should start with learning to love and accept yourself.
First, any arthritis management program is all about self-care. Self-love is a key motivator for self-care. At the same time practicing self-care fuels self-love. Having a strong sense of self-love is going to make it easier for you to make the decisions that honor your body and improve your arthritis symptoms.
Second, those who have low self-esteem, a main component of self-love, experience more pain. This has been shown.
Third, self-love can decrease the stress that can exacerbates arthritis symptoms.
There are several reasons women with arthritis might struggle with self-love.
When you can’t fully participate in the activities that are meaningful to you, your self-identity and self-esteem may suffer affecting your ability to love yourself.
If you were brought up in the type of household where you did not learn self-love, you are more likely to have osteoarthritis as an adult.
Components of self-love.
Learn to accept yourself…. all of you. Begin to recognize your worth and your positive attributes. Also begin to recognize and accept your weaknesses or limitations or negative attributes.
Self-acceptance is a state of complete acceptance of oneself. Accept who you are, without any qualifications, conditions, or exceptions
Accept your body, your feelings, your thoughts, your situation. It doesn’t mean you give up on improving yourself. But you accept what you have for the time-being.
This is especially important when you have something like arthritis. It is so easy to fall into the self-judgement trap.
I often see people bemoan, “Why can’t I have a normal knee, or hip, or shoulder?”
By accepting your limitations, it gives me a clear idea on what I need to work on and what I need to overcome. Accepting yourself in the moment make improvement more possible.
Recognize and challenge your inner critic
Most of us have an internal dialogue or commentary that is constantly going on in our heads.
We can be out own harshest critic ready to jump whenever we stray from our vision of our own imaginary perfect self.
This voice may compare us to other people or even just pictures we see in magazines or on the internet.
The voice engages in ‘should’ thinking. “I should or should not be doing that.” “I should look like that.”
Or ‘all or nothing’ thinking. You are either perfect or bad with no middle ground.
This voice also shames us when we make a mistake.
Or labels us as stupid, lazy, hopeless, or the many variations of not being enough.
Get to know your inner critic. Sometimes we are so used to the script we don’t even know it’s running. It is such a part of us. Increase your self-awareness so you can hear it.
When you make a mistake, how to you speak to yourself. What do you think when you look in the mirror? What do you say when you don’t meet a goal or face a setback?
Start to recognize the negative things you say to yourself.
And then challenge them.
Explore if what you are thinking is valid.
Would you say the same thing to your best friend? Then why do you say it to yourself?
Turn those thoughts into something more realistic and supportive. Something you would say to your best friend.
It takes time. And at first you may be shocked by how you speak to yourself. But as you practice this the challenged negative thoughts begin to transform, and you start to speak to yourself more kindly and in a more supportive manner.
Acknowledge the value and usefulness of your mistakes
Part of self-love is realizing that you are only human. We all make mistakes.
When you make a mistake, do not beat yourself up over it. Own up to the mistake and reflect on what may have caused it but do not go down that shame spiral that you are not enough because you made a mistake.
Embrace mistakes as an opportunity to learn. Take a step back to understand what happened and use it to grow.
Treat yourself with kindness and gentleness
Begin to cultivate sincere feelings of warmth and caring for yourself. Treat yourself with an attitude of compassion, caring, and respect. This ties into a lot of what I have spoken about already because it involves self-acceptance, acknowledging your mistakes with gentleness, and speaking to yourself kindly. Give yourself the dignity you deserve. Become your own best friend.
Honor and respect your feelings
Many of us were taught to stuff our feelings down as children. We were shamed for crying our displaying anger. Or our feelings were simply ignored as if they did not exist. The old “children are seen and not heard attitude”.
Ignoring, stuffing, or not acknowledging your feelings can cause a whole host of problems with arthritis but it also keeps you from honoring your deepest needs.
Becoming aware of your feelings can be challenging but is possible. Once you are aware of your feelings you can label them and begin to explore what triggers them. Once you begin to face your feelings and process them, they begin to become unbottled and a lot of tension can be released from your body.
The feelings wheel is a great resource for this.
Give your body what it needs to thrive
This last one amounts to self-care, which is an important aspect of self-love. Having self-love gives motivation for self-care while practicing self-care strengthens self-love.
Self-care is nourishing yourself with healthy foods and staying away from the foods that might hurt you. As your self-love grows it will be easier to make healthier choices.
Self-care is finding exercise and movement that you love and then doing it.
Self-care is getting to the doctor for your yearly visit and recommended screenings. Dental care is self-care too.
Self-care is recognizing stress and learning mindfulness and other stress management techniques.
Self-care is making sure you get enough sleep.
I invite you to fall in love with taking care of yourself. Fall in love with healing. Fall in love with becoming the best version of yourself. Fall in love with treating yourself with gentleness, compassion, and patience.