What is Self Love?
Self-Love: what is it and how do we do it?
This is a question I get asked a lot by my clients. It’s something I preach.. “Love yourself more!” And the most common response is “I know I’m supposed to love myself, but what does that really mean, and how do I even do that?” Sometimes I don’t really know how to answer that. It is a kind of abstruse concept. I think we all have a general understanding of love- the dictionary describes love as “a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection.” I think of loving actions as showing care and concern, being nice and helpful, listening with intention, noticing, and tending to the sufferings of others, being supportive, etc. When we love someone, we make time for them, we encourage them, we do nice things for them, we are compassionate. But what is SELF Love? What does that look like? How do you know if you are doing it right? I find that self-love and self-compassion are essential to harmonious existence, and yet I see so little of this principle actualized. We live in a culture of constant comparison, whether its regarding looks, financial success, fame, etc. We tend to focus more on material happiness or envying the wellbeing of others instead of turning inwards to truly augment our own sense of self.
I decided to reflect on this question and come up with a solid response. I want to practice what I preach and I want to have a good answer to keep in my back pocket when this question comes up in sessions! And, I want to truly understand what it means to have self-love. I started exploring this by coming up with a list of what I think self-love is and isn’t:
1.Self love IS knowing what honors your mind and your body and making decisions daily that honor that knowledge and align with the intent to be your best self. Things that honor your mind and your body might include eating healthier, exercising, meditating, journaling, self-reflection, spending time with close friends, cuddling with your pets, etc.
- Self-love IS being gentle towards ourselves. It requires that we have awareness of and show compassion to the parts of us we feel are the most unlovable. Loving ourselves through our weakness and showing up for ourselves despite our self-doubt is the truest act of healing. This is because the shame we hold towards these parts is what creates the sense of worthlessness. When we confront the ego and choose compassion over rejection and judgment, we are acting out of self-love. In other words, I believe the deepest sense of self love comes from facing head-on the darkest parts of our existence and loving ourselves despite those weaknesses. We wouldn’t be truly human if we were perfect and had no flaws- so embrace your humanity and love yourself despite it.
- Self-love ISN’T being unfriendly towards others. I believe as humans it is our responsibility to do our best and be our best. First, please note that doing your best and being your best does not equate to “being perfect,” (I will get to that in another blog post…) but it does mean that we create a life that builds us up to live to our fullest potential. I believe that when we truly love ourselves, and when we are truly in alignment with our highest self we act from a place of integrity. I believe we have a responsibility to integrity- integrity towards ourselves and integrity towards others. Self-love results in an outpouring of this love and compassion towards others. Without self-love we can tend to blame and see others through a hateful lens. If you struggle with this, ask yourself why and be honest with yourself. Will loving yourself help you be more compassionate to others, and embrace their humanity as well? Will having compassion towards others help you love yourself more? This doesn’t mean you have to be everyone’s best friend, but I think it does mean you let go of hate and bitterness.
- Self-love IS setting boundaries. Even though I believe that self-love and self-compassion result in more love and compassion for others, there will still be people in your life you need to have healthy boundaries with. Ask yourself which relationships truly build you up and support you in your journey of self-love? Are there people who put you down, try to distract you from living as the best version of yourself? Are there people who are not in alignment with your growth and healing? Are there people in your life that discourage you from making healthy decisions? Do not invest your time and energy in people who bring you down. You can practice the loving kindness prayer for them, and you can will growth and healing towards them, but making a martyr of yourself by trying to invest in those relationships will not foster self-love and compassion. You will find you are fighting an uphill battle and exerting all your energy towards something that ultimately doesn’t serve you. Decide which boundaries to have, how to have them, and make the decision to follow through and honor your own wellbeing.
- Self-love ISN’T making excuses. Honestly, this is one I am only recently coming to terms with. My husband always says, “excuses are like buttholes, we all have them and they all stink.” I used to hate when he said this because I didn’t want him challenging the excuses I made for myself! But he is right! If you live for your excuses, you create barriers to living your highest potential. Self-love is believing you can meet your goals, and then meeting those goals every day. You keep yourself stuck when you don’t truly believe in yourself or honor your potential. For example, I have a goal of eating less sugar. I want to eat less sugar because sugar triggers some of my chronic pain symptoms, it makes me feel groggy and unmotivated after the initial high wears off. Sugar is not my friend. When I make excuses and repeatedly give in to sugar, I’m robbing myself of energy, and I’m deliberately keeping myself stuck. I choose to set boundaries around sugar, and I make that choice because I want to set myself up for living in my greatest potential. If you struggle with making excuses for yourself, ask what your biggest barriers are and work from there. You don’t have to be rigid and strict, but really ask yourself if there are excuses you are living in that are ultimately robbing you of self-love.
- Self-love is NOT comparing yourself to others. We look at social media or magazines or tv, and we tend to fantasize about how easier life would be if we were more like the person in the photo-shopped picture. Stop doing this to yourself! You are deserving of love and happiness as you are, and comparison is a thief of that happiness and self-love. Comparison is a deception of the ego. You think you are motivating yourself by wanting to be more like this person, but you are avoiding your unique gifts by focusing on comparison. Let that go!
- Self-love is NOT shame and self-judgment. Along with comparison, we all have tendencies to shame ourselves and judge ourselves hoping we will get enough motivation to finally make the changes we want. But guess what, those are negative reinforcers and all the science and psychology tell us negative reinforcement doesn’t do the trick. Many of my clients struggle to let go of the inner dialogue that enables shame and self-judgment because there is a part of us that believes if we let it go, we will never be the person we want to be- our ego believes it serves an essential function. But the truth is it doesn’t. Only when we work from a place of knowing our worth and loving ourselves do we finally begin to live the life we want to live.
I’m sure I will have many more thoughts on this as my life experiences continues, but I will stop there since this is meant to be a blog post and not a book!
My ultimate synopsis of what it means to have self-love is this: know your worth and let go of contingencies. Believe in your potential and don’t listen to self-doubt. Care for yourself when you need care. Acknowledge your needs and validate your experience. Honor what your mind and body need to function at their best.
HOW DO I DO ALL THOSE THINGS?
- Do some gratitude journaling and always include things you love about yourself.
- Practice a Loving-Kindness Meditation that will allow you to accept love and kindness towards yourself and towards others.
- Set daily intentions that align with your goals and always celebrate your accomplishments!
- Notice your inner dialogue. When your ego brings up self-doubt or self-criticism- acknowledge its presence- thank the ego for its motivation to protect you, but ask it to step aside and allow you, as your higher self, to take over the dialogue and trust the process of self-love.
- Attend daily to each aspect of your wellbeing- physical, spiritual, emotional, and social. Get movement of some sort in your body; practice a meditation, pray, or read a motivating book; journal your thoughts and emotions; call a good friend who is also seeking to live out their highest potential. Make a morning routine that highlights each aspect of your wellbeing and creates space for self-love.
- Practice some self-care: take a bath, get a massage, paint your nails, put on a face mask, get your hair cut, get some good smelling lotion or a good smelling candle, read a good book, listen to peaceful music. Come up with your own list of self-care activities! And be sure to take time to really connect within yourself and ask yourself “what would truly honor what I need in this moment?”
- Imagine the younger child in you that needs love and compassion to thrive and give that younger self a really big hug.
- Have a list of daily affirmations you keep close to repeat over and over and over again until you get sick of them! Just kidding… you won’t get sick of them… you will actually start to believe them!
- Take an inventory of what influences your thoughts throughout the day and purge what doesn’t serve you- are you spending too much time on social media? Are there relationships you need to step away from? Are you drinking too much? Are you watching “trash t.v.” instead of investing your time in something that serves you? Notice the difference between treating yourself and allowing yourself time to disengage from trying so hard, versus numbing yourself and avoiding living your best life.
Let me know your thoughts below! I intend to make a lifelong quest of learning more about self-love, and I would love to learn from you too!