Mind & Body

The Key to Liking Yourself Better

Learning to treasure your unique presence in this world is essential
TIMEDecember 9, 2021

Honestly, do you genuinely like the person you have become? If you’re like me, sometimes I like me, sometimes I don’t. None of us are perfect: We all have flaws that are not life-threatening. I’m always trying to improve myself, wanting to present myself well. I think much of this comes from a background in theater, where the grand entrance is a big deal. Although the years have taught me that the grand entrance is not what it’s all about, I still catch myself wanting to make one.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, psychologist Carl Rogers wrote that when parents place “conditions of worth” on young children, they cause them to grow up to doubt and criticize themselves.

I can relate to this sort of upbringing, can you? Some of us grew up with parents who made us feel that they would love us only if we lived up to their standards. And then, as adults, we have that inner voice that constantly compares us with how we “should” be.

When I was in high school, I had to maintain my grades at an all-time high, or my dad would not let me participate in any extra-curricular activities. This made a diligent worker out of me, but sometimes I realize that I am still trying to please my dad, who passed away 20 years ago. To live a happy life, that’s something that needs to be left behind.

I interviewed my friend and former colleague Andrea Cagan to share her views on liking ourselves. Andrea is an American writerbiographer, and ghostwriter. She has edited and collaborated on more than 15 books, including biographies of Diana RossGrace SlickJoan Lunden, and Prem Rawat. She has brought a dozen books to the bestseller lists, including three New York Times No. 1 bestsellers and one Los Angeles Times No. 1 bestseller.

There are several things we can change or do to like ourselves consistently. The main thing is we have to find our voice. Andrea agrees and says:

“As women, we’ve been programmed to keep our mouths shut and swallow our feelings since we were little girls. I was blessed to spend time with the late actress Olympia Dukakis, who dedicated her later life to helping women find their voices and break the silence that had plagued us for eons. She ran workshops and used herself as the model to laugh, cry, scream and claim her space in a world that had tried to silence women for eons.”

Accepting yourself as you are, not what you might become, provides you with a positive sense of self-worth. That means that you can live with being imperfect. When you accept yourself, you are less likely to ruminate about your shortcomings, and you will be more likely to see yourself realistically. You’ll still know you have defects, but they won’t be debilitating failures.

Andrea says that when we have found our voice, we have to speak for ourselves because no one else will. She recounts her earlier experience:

“When I began to stand up for myself, I was afraid people wouldn’t like me. It seemed like the unpopular route to take, and often it was. At first I was harsh and demanding. I didn’t know how to speak up in a kind and compassionate way. But when I got used to being there for myself, the pendulum swung back into what Buddhists call ‘the middle way.’ I learned to say my piece without causing distress to other people.”

If you don’t like your voice, slow it down and think about who you are and what you have to say to the world. Be honest and open in sharing yourself. Nobody can be you except you. Uphold yourself and always tell the truth, but tell it in love.

Modern dance innovator Martha Graham wrote a classic letter to a young Agnes de Mille who was beginning her career in choreography. Andrea’s paraphrase: “There is only one of you, and your expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist. The world will not have it. It isn’t your business to determine how good it is. You just need to keep the channel open. No artist is pleased, but there is a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Indeed, I have not arrived at the lofty goal of always liking myself, and you likely haven’t either. But when we consider these points and keep on going, we will improve in this area. We should treat ourselves the way we would treat a dear friend. When we get off track, we need to look at what we’ve learned and encourage ourselves to do better next time.

Formerly a professional dancer with the Harkness Ballet of New York, Donna Martelli has written three books, as well as course manuals, book summaries, blogs, articles, and devotionals. She lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, and is married with five children and 12 grandchildren. She is the author of “When God Says Drop It” and “Why the Dance.”