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The 5 steps I took to love myself with depression

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Self-love can sometimes feel impossible with depression. Here's how Dr. Jonathan Rottenberg learned to be more kind to himself.

When I was depressed, I felt that I was being punished. Did I deserve it?

When I was depressed, I withdrew from other people. Was I a terrible friend, spouse, and father?

When I was depressed, I could no longer do the things I did before. Was I a good-for-nothing?

When I was depressed, I had trouble thinking clearly. Was I stupid?

Depression can brilliantly teach you to be your own worst critic. It’s like you almost become adept at dishing out abuse to yourself. It becomes hard to have a balanced view of yourself. And self-love may seem hopelessly out of reach.

Yet, self-love is important. Research has shown that practicing self-compassion may help to reduce self-criticism and even decrease depression symptoms.

I somehow opened myself up to self-compassion during a phase of recovery, after I’d managed to dig myself out of depression. On my better days, I even say that I’ve gained self-love.

But how did I turn it around? How can you learn to love yourself if you struggle with depression?

No formula is guaranteed to work for everyone. But I reconstructed five key steps that helped take me in the right direction.

Admit that self-love is possible

Realizing I actually had a choice in how to treat myself was pivotal.

I spent a lot of time during my depression working on relationships with my friends, fiancé, and family. I spent nearly zero time trying to improve my relationship with myself… when it was arguably the most important relationship of all.

I had no idea how to make things better, but knowing that it was possible to make a change was a big breakthrough.

Question your self-talk

The next step in improving my relationship with myself was to take a fresh look at what I routinely said to myself. My words were often petty, cruel, unforgiving, and downright inaccurate.

I asked two new questions. Would I talk to a friend this way? Would I have any friends left if I did? The obvious answer to both questions was no.

I knew I couldn’t banish self-criticism all at once. So, I decided to make a smaller change instead. I checked whether my tone gave me the same respect that I offered others.

Sometimes I caught myself being rude to myself, and I stopped it right there. Other times I just tried to find a way to rephrase my self-criticism. Instead of saying, “I can’t do anything right!” I said, “This is frustrating. What help do I need to get this done?”

Become more accepting of your flaws

I can never be perfect. After all, no one is. And it was that realization that helped me to tone down my constant self-criticism.

I took a step back and woke up to the fact that depression is part of who I am. This baggage is inconvenient, yet my flaws and history are what make me unique.

Lots of people struggle with emotional pain, physical pain, trauma, or a difficult childhood. We are all works in progress, and we all have our unique set of flaws and blind spots.

With this in mind, I tried to be a little more compassionate to everyone in my life — including myself! That was another baby step toward self-love.

Initiate a more loving inner dialogue

Knowing that everyone struggles helped me to reframe my journey with depression. I started to feel proud of what I’d been through. Maybe someone who struggled through years of depression — like me — deserved a little more patience and even kindness.

I used to think, “I’m a failure.” Or, “I’m broken.” Now I think, “I’ve survived a lot and have the bumps and bruises to prove it.”

Start taking actions toward self-love

I realized that I could never truly love myself if I only changed my way of thinking. Did my actions show that I respected myself and prioritized my needs? What was I actually doing to show that I cared about my mind and my body?

Everyone’s loving actions are different. For me, self-loving actions included:

  • getting enough sleep

  • eating a healthier diet

  • taking the time to exercise

  • giving myself space for fun or reflection, especially if I was stressed

  • taking time to appreciate myself and enjoy other people

  • spending time with the people who really love me

  • standing up for myself if someone tried to take advantage of me

These actions proved that I could do more than just talk about self-love. I could actually walk the walk.

I know that I’m far from being an expert at self-love. I still fall down all the time. But I get up.

I’m now convinced that change is possible, although it’s not necessarily easy. But it can be absolutely life-changing to build a better relationship with yourself.

For more information on how to manage depression, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.


The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen​. 

NPS-US-NP-00501 May 2021

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